Monday, September 23, 2013

# 41 ~ Toronto's "Old" City Hall, Then and Now

One of Toronto's most iconic landmarks celebrated a “birthday” last week. It was on September 18th, back in 1899, that our “Old” City Hall opened, on Queen Street at Bay Street. It's long since been surpassed in height by the soaring skyscrapers that have cropped up downtown, but our 1899 City Hall still soars with distinction over Bay Street. It was Toronto's last great architectural project of the Victorian age, and despite being threatened by demolition over the years, it gave proud service as the centre of Toronto over several decades in the twentieth century.

THEN : "Old" City Hall circa 1900, when it was still new.
The building was, of course, the child of Toronto's famed architect, Edward James Lennox. Lennox would later give Toronto the King Edward Hotel and Casa Loma, along with a number of other buildings, but it was his work on our City Hall that would help Toronto ring in a new century. What finer work for an architect to set his mark on a city than to construct the home of municipal government, that would surely also serve as a gathering spot for its residents? But, the construction of the new city hall building would not be completed without difficulty.

Planning for the new building had begun during the final years of the 1880s, and originally, the building was just going to serve as a County Courthouse. By 1887, though, the initial budget of $300,000 was running short. So, a new lot of funds totalling $750,000 was granted, and the decision was made to also make it the new City Hall for Toronto. Within two years, that money was nearly gone, too, and in 1889, a further $600,000 was approved. By the time that the building was completed, the cost would hit the $2 million mark. There was plenty of animosity between Lennox and the city officials over the soaring cost of the building.

When the building was complete, it became evident that Lennox had taken his revenge, in a notorious bit of Toronto design. There are a number of faces carved into the pillars at the top of the main stairs of the building, which lead up from Queen Street. They are all, save one, comically grotesque figures, with exaggerated features, bulging eyes, and protruding tongues. It's said that Lennox had each one of these designed to represent one of the municipal officials who gave him a hard time. The one exception was a “self portrait” of Edward James Lennox, and was put in place to make him seem like the only respectable or intelligent figure when set amongst those who governed over us more than a century ago.

NOW : With the opening of the 1899 City Hall, architect Edward James Lennox immortalized himself, in more ways than one.  His image graces the columns near the main entrance to City Hall.  He is seen here, at the top centre.
NOW : The esteem in which Lennox held those city officials with whom he worked has been immortalized, too.  It's said that each one of these grotesque faces represents a city official who pestered Lennox about when the grand new municipal headquarters would finally be completed.

It was also custom at the time for an architect to be allowed to carve his name in such an elaborate work, but because of the anger that city officials felt towards Lennox, they denied him that privilege. He went ahead and put his name on the building, anyway. Around all four sides of the building, hidden amongst all the elaborate designs and carvings, runs the legend “Edward James Lennox, Architect”. The letters are spread out around the entire building, and can be hard to make out, but they're there, and Lennox had his architectural legacy.
Referring to the building as “Old City Hall” is actually something of a misnomer. When Toronto was incorporated as a city in 1834, the early city council met in rented facilities on top of a former St. Lawrence Market building, on the southwest corner of King and Jarvis streets. In 1845, a new addition to the market was completed on the south side of Front Street, and the first purpose built City Hall was constructed on top of it. When the Queen Street City Hall opened up in 1899, this area above the market was abandoned, and left closed to the public for more than seventy years, until it reopened as a museum and gallery space. Known today as the Market Gallery, it holds about three different exhibitions each year, on the various cultural, historical and artistic artifacts that are held within Toronto's archives. The Market Gallery is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 o'clock in the morning to 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and admission is free, though donations to the work of the gallery are kindly accepted.

THEN : The reception room of the Mayor's Office in the really old City Hall, 1898.

THEN : The council chamber of the real "Old City Hall" in 1898.  This city hall was above the south St. Lawrence Market from 1845 until 1899.  It survives today as the Market Gallery, an exhibition place for Toronto's art, history and culture.
THEN : City council meets above St. Lawrence Market in 1899.  The next council would meet in the new City Hall building.  In this photograph, no one seems to be paying particular attention to Mayor Clarke.
Mayor E.F. Clarke had laid the cornerstone for the building on November 21, 1891, and almost eight years later, in September of 1899, the official opening ceremony began at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Mayor Shaw unlocked the main door with a golden key. Martial bands from the Governor General's Body Guards, the 48th Highlanders, the Royal Grenadiers, and the Queen's Own Rifles played from noon until 10 o'clock at night. One bit of accompanying music was not ready yet. The bells at the top of City Hall had yet to be installed, and now would be rung for the
first time until December 31, 1899.

THEN : The opening ceremonies of the 1899 City Hall, September 18th, 1899.
The building served as Toronto's city hall until the “New City Hall” was completed next door in the mid-1960s. The 1960s were a time when thousands of our older buildings were disappearing, and being destroyed in favour of great slabs of concrete. In the years between the construction of this new city hall, and the opening and expansion of the Eaton Centre through the 1970s, there were calls to demolish our 1899 city hall. Fortunately, it was saved, and in 1984 the building was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
THEN : Bay Street looking north to City Hall in 1924.

THEN : View of City Hall from Elizabeth Street, 1924.
THEN : City Council, 1915.
THEN : City Council chamber.
THEN : During the First World War, City Hall was often home to assemblies and displays that tried to shore up patriotism and support for the war effort.  Here, an early tank is put on display for curious Torontonians.

THEN : Torontonians get a taste of trench warfare outside City Hall.

THEN : A spontaneous rally outside City Hall to celebrate the end of the Great War.
THEN : City Hall lobby, 1936.
It's nearly that time of the year again ... Old City Hall is a stop on our “Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto” tour. Beginning Friday, October 4th, we will be running ghost tours each and every night, seven nights a week,
straight through until Thursday, October 31st.

In those four weeks, we'll have the Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto every night at 7 o'clock, and the Ghosts of the University of Toronto tour every night at 10 o'clock. On Friday, October 25th, Saturday, October 26th and Thursday, October 31st, we will also have the Ghosts of the University of Toronto tour at midnight. Additionally, for a few nights near the end of October, our final stop on the Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto tour – Mackenzie House Museum – will be briefly open to visitors to let them have a look inside.
Some nights are just about sold out so contact me at to make your reservations now!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

# 40 ~ History at the CNE, Then and Now

The Canadian National Exhibition is already into its second weekend. For many Torontonians, the annual exhibition marks the beginning of the end of summer. The back to school sales have hit the stores, and I've already seen Hallowe'en candy on the shelves. I think about Hallowe'en most of the year round but for any normal people out there it may be a bit of a shock to see it in stores by the second half of August.
August 25, 1919, is the anniversary of two events associated with the history of the Canadian National Exhibition. On that date, the Prince of Wales – who would briefly reign as King Edward VIII before abdicating and becoming the Duke of Windsor – began a three day visit to Toronto. The grounds of the CNE was one of several stops that he made while touring through the city. The First World War had only recently ended, and waves of patriotism must have swept through the crowds that came out to cheer on Canada's future King. The Abdication Crisis of 1936 was still nearly twenty years away, and in the innocent days of 1919, no one would have guessed that the dashing young Prince would throw the Crown into peril.
THEN : The Prince of Wales rides through a crowd of thousands near the old Grandstand at the 1919 CNE.
THEN : The Prince of Wales at the 1919 CNE.

The Prince of Wales also visited a number of military hospitals, as well as the Hospital for Sick Children, which had opened on College Street in 1891, where it remained until the current facility was opened up on University Avenue in 1951.

NOW : The former "Victoria Hospital for Sick Children", on College Street, is now the Canadian Blood Services building.  It was serving as a hospital for children when the Prince of Wales visited in 1919.
NOW : The beautifully carved sign over the College Street entrance to the former Victoria Hospital for Sick Children is one of many architectural gems that lies in wait for those who look up while they wander our city streets.

While in Toronto, the Prince of Wales laid the cornerstone for the Royal Canadian Yacht Club clubhouse on Toronto Island. The previous clubhouse had been destroyed by fire the year before.

THEN : A gathering of members of the Canadian Weekly Newspapers Association outside the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, Toronto Islands, 1935.
THEN : The Prince of Wales with Toronto's Mayor Thomas Langton Church, in 1919, on the steps of Toronto's 1899 City Hall. 
Also on August 25, 1919, the first international air race to be held in conjunction with the Canadian National Exhibition took place. The starting point was actually the Leaside Aerodrome, at Eglinton Avenue and Laird Drive, and the target destination was the Roosevelt Airfield in Mineola, New York State. The total distance was 1,142 miles, or 1,838 kilometres. Forty pilots took up the challenge, with many of those never even completing the course. The winner was an American, R.W. “Shorty” Schroeder, but he was disappointed in victory – for some reason, the cash price of $10,000 was never awarded.

The Leaside Aerodrome had opened in 1917 as an airfield for the Royal Flying Corps. In June of 1918, the Leaside Aerodrome became the site of the first delivery of airmail in Canada, with 120 letters delivered by Brian Peck. Today, a plaque stands near the site of the old Leaside Aerodrome. The last hangar at the old aerodrome was not taken down until 1971, and today, the area is covered is home to a number of small business and industrial buildings.

NOW : A plaque near the site of the Leaside Aerodrome describes the history of Canada's first Air Mail delivery.
THEN : Packages destined for the T. Eaton Company's Toronto location arrive at the Leaside Aerodrome in 1928.
2013 marks 135 years of the Canadian National Exhibition on its current locations. If you can take the crowds, don't mind the vendors, and can enjoy the bright lights and cacophony of sounds of the Midway at night, then the annual CNE is a great way to mark the last real weekend of summer. The fair grounds have changed dramatically over the years, but the CNE has certainly become an annual end-of-summer tradition in Toronto.
If you're free, join me for an “After Dark” ghost tour of the CNE grounds this coming Monday and Wednesday night, August 26th and 28th. Tours start at a sign very close to the admission booths right inside the Princes' Gates. Come through the gates, and turn right, and you should see the sign, or simply contact me at for more information (or you can look up “Muddy York Walking Tour Group on facebook). Tours are free with admission, and admission to the grounds is only $5 after 5 o'clock. Tours start at 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock each of those two evenings. For more information you can visit the CNE's website here.
We're always planning special events and tours.  Last night, we held an indoor ghost tour of Mackenzie House Museum for a few dozen of our regulars.  If you're interested, the best way to find out about these special events is through our facebook group, which you can find here.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

# 39 ~ York's First Church, Then and Now


THEN : A painting of York's harbour in 1793.  As soldiers prepared to carve a new colonial capital out of the forest, they gathered for the first religious service to ever be held here, on August 11, 1793.
Exactly 220 years ago today, on August 11, 1793, the first religious service of any kind was held in the Town of York. David William Smith, who was the Acting Deputy Surveyor General of Upper Canada, as well as a lieutenant in the 5th Regiment of Foot, presided over the service. He read out prayers to the soldiers of the Queen's Rangers, who had gathered together in a lot cleared out of the forest on the site of what would become Fort York.
The early religious life of the Town of York was dominated by the Church of England, and “anybody who was anyone” prayed, socialized, congregated and otherwise hobnobbed at the Anglican Church of St. James. However, it would be four years until a plot of land was laid aside for the English church in the Town of York, and it wasn't until 1807 when the first St. James' Church was actually constructed, on the northeast corner of King and Church streets. Even the street names of that particular intersection gave clues to the nature of its use. King Street was after King George III, the Sovereign, and Defender of the great, British, Protestant Faith, and Church Street was of course after the religious flavour that the thoroughfare would adopt.

THEN : King George III, after whom King Street was named.  At a time when Yonge Street was a muddy military highway, King Street was really the first real street laid out for the citizens of the Town of York.
THEN : Looking east along King Street towards Church Street in 1835.  St. James' Church obviously held prominence over the landscape.  On the left are the prison (far left) and the courthouse (between the prison and the church).  Salvation and incarceration sat side by side.

In those years between that first prayer service in August of 1793, and the construction of the first actual church building in 1807, the Church of England congregation at York met in various buildings associated with the local government, like the Parliament buildings at the east end of town. The church that was finally opened in 1807 was little more than a wooden shed. It was this wooden church that was used as a hospital following the American invasion of York in 1813, and which was looted by those same Americans in the few days that they spent looting the old town.
THEN : The first St. James' Church, little more than a wooden shed, built in 1807.
In 1818, this earliest of York's churches was enlarged, and a bell tower was added. The physical church building has gone through numerous incarnations over the years. In 1833 it was taken down and replaced with a more permanent building. A devastating fire in 1839, and then, an even greater one in 1849, resulted in reconstruction. Construction of the current Gothic Revival building that we know today began in 1850 and was completed in the summer of 1853, with the exception of the great spire, which was finally completed in 1874.
THEN : The present Cathedral Church of St. James' in 1867.

THEN : The present day Cathedral Church of St. James, circa 1890.
Toronto finally became its own Diocese in 1839, and that meant that the city's infamous Anglican rector, John Strachan, was elevated to the position of Bishop. There are many references to John Strachan throughout the modern day Cathedral, and his laid to rest underneath the altar of the contemporary Church.

THEN : The redoubtable John Strachan.  It's near impossible to reference religion or education in early Toronto without a mention of Toronto's first Bishop for the Church of England.
THEN : Strachan died on November 1st, 1867.  Such was the calibre of his influence that his funeral procession, shown here, became one of the most highly attended public events in Toronto to that date.
NOW : This bust of Strachan resides above a tablet at the Cathedral Church of St. James, which tells of his contributions towards the work of the church and education throughout the province.
NOW : Other references to Strachan can be found throughout the church's windows.
The parcel of land that was given for the church – bounded by King Street, Adelaide Street, Church Street and Jarvis Street – represented a significant piece of real estate in 1797. The town's main commercial strip only stretched two blocks from south to north, from Front Street, north to Adelaide Street. All the town's central services, retailers, townhouses and government agencies were located between Church and Parliament streets. But of course, the church required such a large piece of land in order to bury the dead. Two centuries ago, there were no public cemeteries in town. There was a military burial ground at what is now Victoria Memorial Square. The majority of all other burials took place on the grounds of the established churches, with a few wealthy families having their own clan crypts in the gardens of their own private estates.

NOW : The present day interior of the Cathedral Church of St. James.

The original Church of England cemetery, next to St. James' Church, was moved to its present location, the modern day St. James' Cemetery, which runs east from Parliament Street and south of Bloor Street. The majority of the bodies in what is now St. James' Park were moved, but many still remain. The most well known amongst these are the bodies of those poor souls who perished during the cholera epidemics that swept through the populace in the 1830s. Flung into a mass grave at the northwest corner of the church's property, they have remained there for 180 years, and it's a tragic piece of our municipal history that there is no marker to them, today.

THEN : Death was at the pump, and cholera leapt from the water pump to stalk the streets of York.  The many who perished were buried in lots around town, one of which was located next to St. James' Church.

NOW : The cholera pits and burial ground for St. James is now a public park, with nothing to commemorate the final resting place of the lost.
At a time when Toronto was known as a grand Victorian City of Spires, St. James' Cathedral was at the top of the list of our greatest ecclesiastical landmarks. It continues as such today. There are weddings at the Cathedral nearly every weekend in the summer. St. James' Park carries on as a popular old town playground, where pedestrians stroll through the gardens or sit in the grass, perhaps unaware of the untold history that lays beneath their feet, where some of the earliest church goers to occupy Toronto were laid to rest. The Anglican community, like Toronto's religious diversity in general, has come along way since those first soldiers huddled together in a clearing near Fort York 220 years ago, to lift their voices toward the Heavens.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

# 38 ~ The Yonge Street Subway Line, Then and Now

On March 30, 1954, Canada's first subway line officially opened to the public. The original Toronto subway line ran for 7.4 kilometres (4.6 miles) from Union Station to Eglinton Station.
Proposals for a public transportation train route in Toronto came as early as 1911, but it wasn't until January 1, 1946, that Torontonians gave their approval for a new subway.  On that date, a public referendum was held during that year's municipal election, and the referendum results were overwhelmingly in favour of a new subway.
An allotment of $28.9 million was set aside for construction, with an additional $3.5 million for rolling stock. The single subway line would run from Union Station as for north as Eglinton Avenue, which was the northern hinterland of Toronto, sixty-five years ago. Construction began on September 8, 1949 (two years late due to post-war shortages) with a ceremony emceed by Monty Hall. Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor Ray Lawson climbed inside a pile driver and pulled the first lever to pound the first beam into place. All the local radio stations carried the entire event live. The official party then moved to the Royal York Hotel while the real workers got started on their labour.
THEN : September 8, 1949, Ontario's Lieutenant-Governor Ray Lawson pulls the first lever to break ground in the construction of Toronto's Yonge Street subway.
 Subway tunnels were constructed using a technique called "cut and cover".  The subway tunnels were cut into the street from above, a stretch of subway was built, and then the whole thing was covered over again.  This technique was chosen because it was far less expensive than a tunnel bore, but it played havoc on downtown traffic.  A large trench was dug into Yonge Street, utilities were relocated, and steel cross beams were welded into place.  These steel beams were used to support heavy timbers that provided a deck so that traffic could return to the street while work proceeded underneath.  A total of 1.3 million cubic metres of material was removed and dumped into Ashbridges Bay, where it created new public space and allowed Toronto city planners to indulge in their favourite hobby ... landfill.  During construction, about 12,700 metric tons of steel and 1.4 million bags of concrete were used to build Toronto's first subway line.
THEN : "Cut and cover" construction along Front Street, near Union Station, in 1949.  If this looks familiar, it's because the Toronto Transit Commission is currently working on adding a new platform for Union Station, and very nearly the same section of Front Street has been torn up for a while now.
THEN : February 27, 1950, excavating for the Yonge Street subway line, near Shuter Street.

THEN : March 20, 1950, pouring concrete to lay tracks under Yonge Street.
On March 30, 1954, Ontario Premier Leslie Frost and Toronto Mayor Allan A. Lamport officially opened the Toronto's first subway line. Trains operated at an average speed of 32 kilometres per hour, which meant that they could travel from Union Station to Eglinton Station in under twenty minutes. The subway was an instant success. The original plan was to operate two-car trains during off peak hours, but this was abandoned in favour of four-car trains, with six-car trains being standard during most periods. During peak rush hour, eight-car trains were used.
THEN : March 30, 1954, saw Toronto's Mayor Lamport (centre) and Ontario Premier Leslie Frost (second from right) chatting with other dignitaries at Davisville subway station.  It was a proud day for commuters in Toronto, in an age when everyone who was anyone wore hats.
THEN : Vintage subway poster showing the original Toronto subway route, from Union station to Eglinton station.
There have of course been several extensions to the original line that ran up Yonge Street from Union Station to Eglinton. The first was an extension in 1963, with a line curving north from Union station, below University Avenue and Queen's Park circle up to Bloor Street, where the subway line turns west. This 1963 extension originally terminated at St. George Subway Station.
THEN : St. George subway station decked out for its grand opening, February 28, 1963.
THEN : On February 28, 1963, the first train through St. George subway station is pictured here.  It's on its way south, to Union Station, then round the loop north again, to the end of the line at Eglinton subway station.
In 1966, the Bloor-Danforth line opened between Keele Street station and Woodbine Avenue station. In 1968, this line was extended again to run from Islington Avenue station to Warden Avenue station. It wasn't until 1980 that two single stops were added. These would be the western most stop – Kipling – and the eastern most stop – Kennedy.
THEN : Toronto Mayor Phil Givens and Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson ride the rocket on the first run of the Bloor / Danforth subway.
Between 1973 and 1974, the Yonge Street subway line was extended north, from Eglinton Avenue to Finch Avenue. Then, in 1978, the subway was extended northwest from St George Station as far as Wilson Avenue. The final, most northwest station, Downsview Station was opened in 1996.
The six stations of the Scarborough Rapid Transit System opened in 1985, and the most recent subway line, along Sheppard Avenue, opened in 1992.
In total, the Toronto subway system now has 69 subway stations, and a constant promise of more to come. In 2010, the average daily ridership of the Toronto subway (excluding, of course, any surface routes) was 948,100, carried through the subway on 706 subway and RT cars.

NOW : One of the new subway trains pulls into Eglinton subway station, heading southbound.
One final fact is a curiosity of history. Exactly three years before the original Yonge Street subway opened on March 30, 1954, the last wooden streetcar in Toronto made its final run. The date was March 30, 1951, and streetcar # 1326, which had been built in 1910, was now obsolete, since the Toronto Transit Commission had obtained fifty new, modern streetcars. Packed with officials and local transit enthusiasts, the old wooden streetcar made its way through downtown Toronto, and was serenaded by a barbershop quartet.
NOW : Toronto Railway Company streetcar # 1326 at the Halton County Radial Railway Museum, near Rockwood, Ontario.