Monday, August 15, 2011

# 26 ~ The Queen's Hotel, Then and Now

If you ask any Toronto resident to name a luxury hotel that has operated on Front Street from time out of mind, they will name the Royal York.  Opened in 1929, the hotel is one of the stately landmarks of Toronto's hospitality industry.  The Four Seasons and the Park Hyatt both grace the corner of Avenue Road and Bloor Street, and the Ritz-Carlton has recently opened up near Toronto's King Street West entertainment district.  However, the Royal York has a certain iconic quality when it comes to comfortable, pampered hospitality.  However, the Royal York is only the most recent hotel incarnation to stand on the same location.

The first hotel at Front and York streets was Sword's Hotel, opened in 1856, and named for the owner Patrick Sword.  The hotel opened up in a row of four fashionable town houses, which had been constructed as far back as 1838.  The strip of Front Street west of Yonge had become fashionable in the 1830s, as a suburban residential district.  It may be hard to believe now, but prominent gentlemen from the Town of York had constructed homes along this strip to get away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, which at that time stretched along both Front and King streets, running about five blocks east of Church Street.  The prominent Baldwin family, as well as Reverend John Strachan, Toronto's first Anglican Bishop, both had palatial mansions nearby.  They were ideally placed, as the north side of Front Street would have afforded a wonderful view of Toronto's harbour.

THEN : The home of Reverend John Strachan, along with that of William Warren Baldwin (below) were some of the suburban villas that stood in the area where Sword's Hotel was opened.  Built in 1818, it stood for eighty years.  In it's heyday, the grandeur of "the Bishop's Palace" outshone even the nearby residence of the Lieutenant-Governor.  By 1888, it had fallen on hard times, and was serving as the Palace Boarding House.  It was demolished about a decade later, circa 1898.

THEN : The home of William Warren Baldwin, shown here about 1866.  It stood near Front and Bay Streets, from 1835 to 1889, and Baldwin himself was most likely the architect.

These town houses from 1838 were first remodelled in 1844, to serve as the home of Knox College, which had just been established.  The college remained for a dozen years, until 1856, when it was transplanted to a then remote area north of the city, up at Elmsley Villa, near the intersection of modern-day Bay and Grosvenor streets.  It was then that Sword bought up the property and converted them into his hotel.  The old homes were greatly restored and renovated, and adapted for the needs of Sword's hotel.

THEN : The hotel facade, before expansion.

THEN : An early lithograph advertising Sword's Hotel.

The hotel was conveniently located close to provincial legislature, which then stood on the north side of Front Street, between Wellington and John streets.  Sword had intended that his hotel would cater to the needs of the nearby parliament buildings, and that people in town on government business would form the basis of his clientele.  Patrick Sword remained in operation until 1859, when the capital was moved to Quebec.  He then sold his hotel to one B.J.B. Riley, and the property was dubbed the Revere House.  So it remained for only three years, when it was sold again to Captain Thomas Dick in 1862.  The new owner renamed it again, calling it the Queen's Hotel.

THEN : These Parliament buildings on Front Street were constructed in 1832, and were the third for the province (not counting itinerant stops in various other locations).  Patrick Sword, the proprietor of Sword's Hotel, had opened up his establishment close to the Legislative Assembly in order to secure their business.
Over the next few decades, the Queen's Hotel earned a fashionable reputation.  Located right across from Union Station, it was perfectly situated to welcome tourists, politicians and business leaders.  Noteworthy guests at the Queen's Hotel included Queen Victoria's eldest son, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII),  Sir John A. MacDonald, and the only president of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis.  The hotel held 210 rooms, 17 private parlours, a restaurant and a private garden.

THEN : The Queen's Hotel, about 1908.
The Queen's Hotel would last for just over sixty years.  By the dawn of the twentieth century, the hotel's luxury began to fade.  The Queen's Hotel soon found it had competition in the form of two new hotels that had opened in the area.  The King Edward Hotel opened on King Street, just east of Yonge Street, in 1904.  Then, in 1909 Frederick Mossop opened a hotel called the Hotel Mossop just up the street, on Yonge Street between Front and King streets.  Both hotels still exist today; the Hotel Mossop was renamed as the Hotel Victoria in the 1920s.  But the end was in sight for the Queen's Hotel.  After several years of construction, Toronto's third and present Union Station was due to open at the end of the 1920s.  The Canadian Pacific Railway was looking to build a grand, modern hotel, and the site of the Queen's Hotel offered an excellent location.  By then, the hotel had an air of slightly run down gentility ~ a rather threadbare refinement, hoisted up on the grandeur of previous years.  The Canadian Pacific Railway bought the Queen's Hotel in February of 1927 for $1-million, and announced that it would close half a year later, in September of 1927.

The closing of the hotel was a sentimental affair, with many long time, regular hotel guests coming back to pay their respects and visit one more time.  The last guest to check out of the hotel was a frequent, long term resident named Charles Bland.  Many guests toasted the memories of the hotel in a farewell dinner, which was closed with the orchestra striking up a round of "Auld Lang Syne". 

The Queen's Hotel was demolished and replaced with great speed.  The newly constructed Royal York opened on the same location less than two years after the old hotel was demolished.  When it opened more than eighty years ago now, the Royal York boasted the height of modern comfort, with ten elevators, a radio and private bath in each of the 1,048 rooms, a telephone switchboard that required 35 operators, and the largest pipe organ in Canada.  An addition to the Royal York would come later, in 1956 and 1957, which would increase the number of rooms to 1,600, making it the largest hotel in the Commonwealth at the time.  Even when it opened, the profile of the Royal York towered over the skyline and dominated the view of the city from the harbour. 

All the record breaking prestige of the Royal York did nothing to quiet those who remembered the glory days of the old Queen's Hotel.  They lamented the loss, and questioned why we needed a new, modern Royal York to replace the steeped comfort and luxury of the Queen's Hotel.  Today, the Fairmont Royal York is an icon for stately, historic comfort in downtown Toronto.  It's hard to imagine that more than eighty years ago now, it was the "new kid on the block" that had to struggle to prove itself worthy of the legacy left behind by the old Queen's Hotel.

THEN : In April of 1904, an extensive fire devastated Toronto.  After it was extinguished, the total damage amounted to $10,000,000 (in 1904 dollars).  Five-thousand workers lost their jobs, either temporarily or permanently.  This photograph was taken from the roof of the Queen's Hotel immediately after the fire.

THEN : Looking west down Front Street from Front Street, following the Great Toronto Fire of 1904.  The cause of the fire was never identified.
THEN : Looking east along Front Street from York Street, 1908.

THEN : Hard times arrived for the Queen's Hotel with the dawn of the twentieth century.  In this photograph from 1906, the hotel looks across Front Street at a barren lot, that would eventually become today's Union Station.  The elegant panorama of the harbour was moving further and further south.

THEN : The Queen's Hotel from the future location of today's Union Station, 1912.

THEN : The Queen's Hotel from the future location of today's Union Station, 1912.
THEN : The Queen's Hotel in 1919.

THEN : The Queen's Hotel in 1915.

THEN : Looking south, through the front garden of the Queen's Hotel to the newly constructed Union Station, about 1927.

THEN : The Queen's Hotel sits across from a newly opened Union Station, just prior to the hotel being closed in 1927 and subsequently demolished.

THEN : Drawing Room, Queen's Hotel, 1911.

THEN : Writing Room, Queen's Hotel, 1910.

THEN : Centre Hall, Queen's Hotel, 1911.

THEN : Bedroom, Queen's Hotel, about 1910.

THEN : Sun Room, Queen's Hotel, 1911.

THEN : This black walnut buffet was carved by noted furniture manufacturer Jacques and Hay, in 1876.  When displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, it won first place.  Photograph from 1911.

THEN : The Queen's Hotel bakery in 1907.

THEN : Closing down the Queen's Hotel in 1927, and removing the furnishings.

NOW : The landmark Fairmont Royal York Hotel, an icon of comfort in modern Toronto, on the site of the old Queen's Hotel.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

# 25 ~ His Majesty's Airship R100 Over Toronto, Then and Now

On August 11th, 1930, Torontonians stared up at the skies and saw a new model of airship hovering over the city.  Airline designers hoped that this new airship ~ the British built R 100 ~ would herald a new age in commercial flight across the Atlantic.

An airship, or dirigible, is a "lighter than air" aircraft that stay up in the air by means of a large balloon, technically known as an "envelope", filled with gas.  The gas must be less dense than the atmosphere around it.  In the early days of airships, hydrogen was used, although hydrogen was found to be too highly combustible, and could lead to disastrous results.  The most famous of these hydrogen-filled airship disasters was the burning of the Hindenburg in 1937.  Airships today are filled with helium.

Airships are identified as belonging to several different categories.  Non-rigid airships, or blimps, are smaller airships without an internal skeleton.  Semi-rigid airships are somewhat larger, and have a partial frame inside.  Rigid airships contain a full internal skeleton, and as they are much larger, they were used for much longer voyages, and were capable of transoceanic flight.  Smaller airships, with less internal framework, are still seen today, and are mostly used for advertising or for hovering over stadiums to film sporting events.  The "Goodyear Blimp" is an example of this kind of airship ~ actually, there are currently three blimps in the Goodyear fleet.  In partnership with Zeppelin, Goodyear started manufacturing airship envelopes in 1911, and brought out its own blimp, The Pilgrim, in 1925.

THEN : Goodyear's first blimp, The Pilgrim made up as the Santa Claus Express circa 1928.  The Goodyear Blimp is a common example of a non-rigid airship.

NOW : The Spirit of Innovation, one of Goodyear's contemporary blimps.  At 58-metres long, it can accomodate six passengers, and no seatbelts are required.  However, Goodyear's policy is to rarely allow passengers.  These blimps are mostly used for advertising purposes, and to hover over stadiums and record sport matches.  The Spirit of Innovation is based out of Pompano Beach, Florida.

Manned balloons have been in operation for hundreds of years, with propulsion being added later in the nineteenth century.  The so-called Golden Age of the airship came with the dawn of the twentieth-century.  It all began in July of 1900, with the launch of the Zeppelin LZ1.  Named after the German Count von Zeppelin, the Zeppelin models would become the most successful airships ever manufactured.  Research and development led to more and more improvements, and by the start of World War One, Zeppelin's airships had develeoped a relatively sturdy framework, separate gas shells, tail fins that aided in control and gave stability, and multiple engine and crew cars that hung beneath the envelope.  A passenger car was situated between the crew cars, and during the war, these were converted into bomb bays.  The airship took on an offensive purpose during the First World War, and were also used to spy on and document enemy positions. 

THEN : Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Zeppelin.  His experiments with airships in the 1890s led to his founding of the Zeppelin Airship Company. 

THEN : The first Zeppelin to ever fly, the Zeppelin LZ1, takes off on 2 July, 1900 over Lake Constance in Southern Germany.

The name Zeppelin, along with the burning wreck of The Hindenburg and the popular appearances of the Goodyear Blimp have made us passingly familiar with German and American airships, but British airship builders got into the production race after the Great War.  Like many other technologies that were refined in the crucible of war, airship technology had advanced and thought was given over to converting the airship into commerical use.  The Airship Guarantee Company was founded as a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrong, a British munitions production company.  A noted aeronautics designer named Barnes Wallis was brought in to help design a new commerical airship.  Wallis would later go on to put together the Vickers Wellington bomber and invent the "bouncing bomb" ~ a barrel shaped bomb built to bounce across water and avoid defensive obstacles like torpedo nets. 

The goal was to build a rigid airship that would serve the commercial aviation routes of the British Empire.  Vickers-Armstrong hoped that a new airship could offer an affordable, comfortable and frequent trans-Atlantic traffic route.  Company officials estimated that airship flights back and forth between the United Kingdom and Canada could be offered for as little as £45 (around $215 American).  The same trip, onboard a passenger ship, cost £115 (about $550 American).  Being able to offer the novelty of flight, before the mainstream advent of commercial airlines, at less than half the cost of a trans-Atlantic cruise, would give up an obvious commercial advantage.

Design of the HM Airship R100 began in rural Yorkshire in 1925.  The project was plagued by difficulties.  Construction took place on a remote, rundown airfield.  Because construction took place in a rural area, skilled labour was hard to find.  The construction shed had a leaking roof, and was unheated, so ice formed on the metal in the winter, and even in warmer seasons, condensation and dampness made for corrosion of the airship's metal frame.  Eventually, though, the work was finished, and although the R100 was not as technologically innovative as her designers had hoped, she made her first flight on 16 December 1929.  The R100 flew from the airfield in Howden to York, then changed course for an airfield in Bedfordshire.  The airship was propelled by six Rolls Royce Condor engines; she used four of the six engines in her initial flight, and cruised along at an average speed of 80 km / hour.  At a speed trial conducted on 16 January 1930, exactly one month after her maiden voyage, the R100 reached 130 km / hour, breaking the records and making her the fastest airship in the world.  The R100 looked a little ungainly at top speeds.  There were relatively few supports in the airship's infrastructure, so excessive speeds made the outer, unsupported fabric ripple and flap during flight. 

The time had come to show off the technological prowess of the R100 on a long voyage.  Originally, plans had been made to fly the airship to India.  However, during the development of the airship, specifications had changed.  The originally planned for diesel engines were not installed, and petrol engines were used instead.  It was thought that a flight to India, through such a hot climate, may result in the combustion of the petrol on board, which would have been disastrous.  Instead, Canada was chosen as a destination.

THEN : The R100 in flight.

THEN : Staff prepare the dining room of the R100.

THEN : Two gentlemen enjoy the lounge aboard the R100.

The R100 left for Canada on 29 July 1930, covering approximately 5,300 kilometres at an average speed of 68 kilometres an hour.  The airship arrived at a mooring mast in Saint-Hubert, Quebec in 78 hours, and stayed at Montreal for twelve days.  Crowds of up to 100,000 people visited the airfield every day, to take in the wonders of modern aviation.  Here, it was hoped, was the future of affordable trans-Atlantic flight.  Mary Rose-Anna Travers, an early French Canadian folk singer often known today by her nickname of "La Bolduc" wrote a tongue-in-cheek song lampooning the great interest of local crowds in the R100 airship.

THEN : The R100 prepares to mast, as crowds gather to watch.

THEN : The R100 moored at Saint-Hubert, Quebec, 9 August 1930.

After Montreal, the R100 departed for a 24-hour passenger flight to Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls.  It as on 11 August that she spent some few short hours hovering over Toronto.  Then, she returned home to England, arriving there after a flight of just under 58-hours.  It would seem that the trans-Atlantic flight of the R100 to Canada was a success.

The R100 did have a sister ship, dubbed the R101.  It was built simultaneously along with the R100, and the two design teams, one working on each of the two airships, were very much in competition with one another.  Moved by the successful Canadian voyage of the R100, the R101 took up the flight to India.  It was the R101 that carried diesel engines, not petrol, so it was thought that the risk was small enough. 

THEN : The R101.  The groundcrew seen at the bottom of the photograph help to give a sense of scale.

The R101 was tested alongside the R100, in 1929, and on the evening of 4 October 1930, the R101 departed for her destination in India.  The R101 had spacious passenger accomodations.  There were fifty passenger cabins, a dining room that could seat sixty people, two enclosed promenade decks that were lined with windows, and even a smoking room, lined with asbestos, that could accomodate two-dozen people.  The washrooms, kitchens, cabins and dining rooms were built with the future of comfortable air travel in mind.  It all came to a tragic end the next day, when the R101 floundered and crashed over France on 5 October 1930.  Forty-seven of the 55 passengers and crew on board the R101 were killed instantly, with another crew member dying of his injuries.  The loss of 48 lives in the R101 disaster was greater than the loss of life on The Hindenburg, which would crash in 1937.  The R101 disaster of 1930 would effectively end the British Imperial Airship Scheme.

THEN : The wreckage of the R101, October, 1930.

THEN : The wreckage of the R101, October, 1930. 

THEN : The wreckage of the R101, October, 1930. 

These huge trans-Atlantic airships, like The Hindenburg, the R100 and the R101, were the first aircraft to allow for controlled, powered, and propelled flight.  They paved the way for today's airlines, but their demise was set by both the rise of the airplanes, which surpassed the capabilities of old style airships, and the terrible airship disasters of the 1930s. 

After the R101 disaster, her sister airship, the R100, which had once graced the skies over Toronto, was ordered grounded.  The R100 was deflated, with the fabric of the envelope hung in a shed while a decision was made of what to do about the ship.  Should work continue on the programme?  Should the work that went into the R100 and R101 lead to the development of a R102?  A decision was finally reached in November of 1931.  The metal framework of the R100 was completely flattened by steamrollers and sold off as a scrap metal for less than  £600.

  • Crew : 37
  • Passenger Capacity : 100
  • Length : 219 metres
  • Diameter : 41 metres
  • Hydrogen Volume : 146,000 m3
  • Weight when Empty  : 107, 215 kilograms
  • Engine Specifications : Six Rolls Royce Condor IIIB 12 cylinder 650 hp engines
  • Maximum Speed : 131 kilometres an hour
  • Range : 6,590 kilometres

THEN : The R100 over Toronto on 11 August 1930.  The spire of the Cathedral Church of Saint James can be seen at the far left of the photograph.  For many years after the spire was completed, it served as a landmark for ships approaching the east end of Toronto's harbour.  It still dominates the skyline of Toronto's Old Town district.

THEN : The R100 hovers over the Canada Life Building, at Queen Street and University Avenue, on 11 August 1930.  The Canada Life building would open the next year, at a total height of 87 metres.  The weather beacon was added two decades later, bringing the total height of the building to 97.8 metres.

THEN : The R100 glides over the Canadian Bank of Commerce building, which had just opened and stood as the tallest building in the British Empire, at the time.  Truly, Toronto had become an "Imperial City" and was deserving of a visit by what designers hoped would be the future in air travel.  To the right of the photograph stands the "Hotel Victoria", opened in 1909.  After a great fire devastated Toronto in 1904, there was a drive to build fireproof buildings.  Originally called the "Hotel Mossop", after its owner, Frederick Mossop, the hotel was considered to be one of the safest hotels in Canada.  Still operating over a century later, it is the second oldest hotel still in operation in Toronto, and has just re opened after an extensive restoration.

THEN : The R100 over Toronto's skyline, as seen from the harbour.  The three towering landmarks are the Royal York Hotel (now the Fairmont Royal York), opened in 1929, at the left of the photograph, the clock tower of the 1899 City Hall, seen at centre right, and the Canadian Bank of Commerce building, opened in 1930, seen at right.  Each of these buildings held the record for Toronto's tallest structure when they opened, but quickly outdid one another for the record.

December 13, 2013

A reader named "Ken" sent me this incredible photographs, showing a pair of souvenir tickets that were issued to allow visitors to come and see the R100 when it was docked at the St. Hubert Airport, in Montreal, Quebec.

Thanks for sending them in!


Monday, August 8, 2011

# 24 ~ Toronto's First Public Library, Then and Now

Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a very public debate over the future of Toronto's libraries.  The city is strapped for cash, and the proposal to cut funding to municipal libraries has stirred the ire of a number of citizens.  Margaret Atwood and Doug Ford have gone to war, and everyone seems to have an opinion.  Should school libraries pick up the slack?  Do we need as many public libraries as we did before the days of the internet and those kindle reader things?  Call me old fashioned, but I have never taken to technology and much prefer to flip through the pages of an actual book than scroll through something on a portable screen.  Besides, libraries provide many services outside of lending books; almost every time I give a talk to an historical society, it's in the meeting room of the local public library.  And even though I am finally considering getting my own digital projector, for years I have relied on the computer equipment and technical help given by library staff.  On the other hand, if Toronto is as cash strapped as they say, and we're really and truly going broke, something somewhere has to give.

Several people have suggested privatization as the answer to our money woes.  It's not a new idea.  Almost 130 years ago, there was another very public debate over public libraries in Toronto.  Before 1883, there was no public library system in Toronto, nor indeed, anywhere else in Canada.  But on January 1st of that year, Torontonians went to the polls to vote in a referendum asking them if they favoured having city council pay up for Toronto's ~ and Canada's ~ first ever public library.

The Mechanics Institute was an adult educational institution that was imported to Toronto from Britain, like so many other organizations.  Having first become popular in Britain, the first mechanics institute arrived in Toronto, then called York, by about 1830.  Members paid an annual fee to join, and could sit in on lectures or peruse the collection of books at the institute.  In 1853, the York Mechanics Institute opened the doors of its permanent home at the northeast corner of Adelaide and Church streets.  The York Mechanics Institute staggered on as a private institution for 30 years, relying on the membership dues paid by members.

THEN : This notice for the York Mechanics Institute illustrates how some of the most household names in old Toronto ~ Baldwin, Rolph, Jarvis, Ewart ~ supported the institute.  The annual membership rate was five shillings.

It was at this point that a city alderman named John Hallam came into the story.  Born in England in 1833, he'd come to Canada in the autumn of 1856, and began working as a labourer in Toronto.  Hallam had spirit and started up his own retail enterprise in the summer of 1866, and continued to expand his fortunes as a wool and leather merchant throughout the next decade.  He then entered municipal politics and served eleven terms as an alderman, from 1872 until 1883.  Hallam was a strong supporter of free, public libraries, and faced an uphill struggle in convincing city council that money should go towards setting up a public library system in Toronto.

THEN : John Hallam, the alderman behind Toronto's public library system.

Hallam believed that city council should sponsor the Mechanics Institute, giving it funds to make it free and readily available to the public.  At first, he was a singular voice on city council, as no other city in Canada had a public library system.  Hallam faced a great deal of resistance from his fellow aldermen, but eventually the matter was taken to a public referendum, and the people of Toronto voted in favour of libraries.  The vote took place on 1 January, 1883, and the Mechanics Institute building at Adelaide and Church streets, along with its collection of 5,000 books, became not only the first public library in Toronto, but the first anywhere in Canada, too.  Hallam served as a library trustee and gave a collection of 2,000 books to the library.  Hallam attempted to make a comeback into municipal politics, but although he was elected as an alderman again, his bid to become mayor in 1900 was unsuccessful.  He died later that same year.

THEN :  The Mechanics Institute, northeast corner of Church and Adelaide Streets.

THEN : Mechanics Institute, 1867.

THEN : Mechanics Institute building, 1884, shortly after it became Toronto's public library.

NOW : The site of the demolished Mechanics Institute today.

As the years went on, Toronto's public library system was able to build more branches, and the old Mechanics Institute remained as the main branch of the Toronto library system until 1909.  A new main branch was opened that year at College and St. George streets, and the old Mechanics Institute faded away.  The institute that had ushered in Canada's first free public libraries was ripped down in 1949.  Today, a condominium stands on the corner, with a Starbucks on street level, where no doubt many a customer has quietly drained a latte while surfing the internet, scrolling through their kindle, or maybe even just reading a book. 

With all the discussion going on these days about the future of Toronto's libraries, it's interesting to know that 130 years ago, city alderman John Hallam faced a single handed struggle to get them started.  Imagine what he could have done with the help of Margaret Atwood.

THEN : The new main branch of the Toronto Public Library was built in 1909 at the northwest corner of St. George and College streets.

NOW : The 1909 library survives today as the Koffler Student Services Centre.