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.