Title: The Toronto Book of the Dead.
Author: Adam Bunch.
Genre: Non-fiction, history, true crime,.
Publication Date: 2017.
Summary: With morbid tales of war and plague, duels and executions, suicides and séances, this book is an incredibly comprehensive history of Toronto — from before it was established to today. The book delves into these: from ancient First Nations burial mounds to the grisly murder of Toronto's first lighthouse keeper; from the bloody and difficult road to democracy and sovereignty, to establishing its first Health Board during the cholera epidemic; from the American invasion of 1812 to the disastrous fire of the SS Noronic that put an end to the luxury sailing industry of the Great Lakes. Toronto has witnessed countless lives lived and lost as it grew from a muddy little frontier town into a booming metropolis of concrete and glass. This book tells the tale of the ever-changing city through the lives and deaths of those who made it their final resting place. (Refer to PART 1 and PART 2 for the rest of the quotes.)
My rating: 9/10.
♥ The morning of March 24, 1945 witnessed the biggest airborne operation in the history of anything ever. It was called Operation Varsity. Thousands upon thousands of planes and gliders took off in England and soared across the skies of Europe. They stretched out for more than three hundred kilometres — the distance from London to Paris — and took two and a half hours to pass. They were on their way to Germany.
..The Allies had one more mammoth task ahead before they could fan out across the country and overrun it: they needed to cross the Rhine River. What was left of Hitler's army was waiting for them on the other side. And so they launched Operation Varsity.
When they reached the Rhine, tens of thousands of men leaped out of the planes, white parachutes bursting open in the morning light. They were easy targets for the bullets and anti-aircraft shells that rose to meet them. Many men died before they hit the ground. Hundreds of planes fell burning from the sky.
♥ They say the air was laced with machine gun and sniper fire, but he made it all the way through to the wounded soldier, and began tending to his patient among the dead bodies. That's how Toppy Topham got shot. In the face.
But that's not how Toppy Topham died.
Fighting the pain, blood pouring from his mangled nose and cheek, he stood his ground, gave the soldier first aid and then picked him up and carried him through the hail of bullets into the woods to safety. Then he turned around and headed right back out again to help more of the wounded men. For the next two hours, he refused to stop working, refused to let anyone take care of his bloodied face until the entire ares had been cleared of casualties.
And his day wasn't over yet. On his way back to join his company, Topham came across an armoured machine gun carrier that had been hit by a shell. Men were trapped inside as it burned. Mortars were still landing all around it. An officer warned everyone to stand back. Topham rushed in.
Flames leaped from the carrier explosions burst all around him, but that's not how Toppy Topham died, either.
He found three men inside the vehicle and carried each of them to safety. One died of his wounds, but the other two survived. They wouldn't be the last lives he saved that day. The Torontonian medic kept working for hours on end.
..Back home in Toronto, the city had been waiting to celebrate their new hero. They threw Topham a parade along Bay Street to Old City Hall with a hundred members of his battalion serving as an honour guard. He was asked to lay the cornerstone for the new Sunnybrook Memorial Hospital for veterans of the war. Soon, an entire new neighbourhood on St. Clair East would bear his name: Topham Park. King George V would award him the Victoria Cross — the highest military honour on the Commonwealth. Nearly sixty years later, when the medal went up for auction in 2004, the members of his old battalion raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep it in Canada. They gave it to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
♥ It was only in spring day in 1968 that Topham climbed high up a hydro pole to check a power line in the Junction. It was an ordinary part of his job, nowhere near as risky as that death-defying day on the banks of the Rhine. But something went terribly wrong. Four thousand volts of electricity were suddenly sent coursing through his body. He lost his grip and fell twenty-five feet onto the ground below.
But that's now how Toppy Topham died, either. He was rushed to Toronto General Hospital and survived the shock and the fall.
No, it was years later that Toppy Topham died. He'd survived the horrors of the Second World War, a bullet to the face, a burning machine gun carrier, a terrible electrical accident, and a dangerous fall, but in the end it was the most mundane of causes that ended his life.
Toppy Topham died of a simple heart attack in 1974.
♥ Stalingrad was a city teeming with people. It was a major metropolis before the war began; since then, refugees had doubled the population. But as the Germans prepared to attack, Stalin refused to organize an evacuation. While food supplied were shipped away to safety, the human beings were left behind. His soldiers, he figured, would fight more passionately to defend a city full of innocent civilians. And in case that wasn't enough to guarantee victory, he ordered that any officer found retreating should be put on trial or shot on the spot — "Not one step back!" — and that anyone who could carry a rifle should fight. Men, women, and children would all be part of the bloodiest battles in history.
♥ But victory in Stalingrad in 1943 came at a terrible price. Nearly two million people had been killed or wounded in that one battle. Two million. And the suffering wasn't over yet. The city was a smouldering ruin. It would take years to rebuild. ..Some estimates say fifteen million Russian children lost their parents during the war.
Toronto had plenty of its own dead to mourn. More than four thousand men and women from the city would lose their lives during the Second World War. But the staggering death troll in Stalingrad struck a chord with Torontonians worried about their own loved ones who were fighting and dying on the other side of the ocean.
So Toronto decided to help.
A few months after the end of the Battle of Stalingrad, Toronto City Council declared "Friendship With Russia Week" and then "Stalingrad Day." They followed that up by officially "adopting" Stalingrad. The next two winters in Toronto produced a massive outpouring of support for the Russian living in their ruined city more than eight thousand kilometres away.
The City of Toronto Stalingrad Committee was created. And a Stalingrad Fund, too. The mayor was made honorary chairman. "Citizens of Toronto could not support a more worthy cause than the noble people of Stalingrad," he declared. "These people have shown us the way to be real heroes. We must give thanks to the Soviet armies and the brave Russian people who gave us those armies. I sincerely hope that all Toronto will get behind this great cause in the name of humanity."
And they did. Millions of dollars were raised in donations. More than 150 organizations came together to organize an ambitious clothing drive, going door to door asking for whatever spare clothing and knitted goods they could find. They collected thirty tons of it, which was stored at a depot on Yonge Street and then shipped off to the USSR.
Many of the most powerful people in Canada worked hard to improve the relationship with "our gallant allies" in Russia. A National Council for Canadian-Soviet Friendship was formed, with the active support of wealthy businessmen, premieres, lieutenant governors, and justices of the Supreme Court. Prime Minister King served as chair.
In 1943, thanks in part to the Eaton family and the heir to the Maple Leaf Foods fortune, there was a three-day Congress of Canadian-Soviet Friendship at the swanky Royal York Hotel. In 1944, there was a second. The event ended with a rally u at Maple Leaf Gardens: seventeen thousand people showed up. The Congress was billed as an exchange of information. Torontonians had the chance to learn all about Soviet advances in agriculture, science, education, and art. Delegates urged every university in Canada to start its own Russian Department. The free flow and exchange of ideas with the Communists was hailed a vital part of Canada's culture.
♥ But they did have some legitimate reasons to be suspicious — reasons like Colonel Nikolai Zabotin. He worked at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa and was one of the Russian representatives who attended the Congress. He was also a spy. He had been sent to Canada to collect secrets about the Allied attempts to build a nuclear bomb. And he was getting them. He used his position at the embassy to gain access to the Canadian government, charming officials into spilling the beans. One naive army officer even took him in a canoe up the Ottawa River, where Zabotin snapped photos of the construction of the Chalk River nuclear facility. Most important, he had an operative inside the British scientific team trying to build a bomb in Canada, who also slipped him secrets about the Manhattan Project in the United States.
It was only a month after the Americans dropped their bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that Zabotin's spy ring was uncovered. With the war over, one of his cipher clerks at the Soviet embassy defected, bringing Mackenzie King's government proof of the espionage. At first, the Canadians were reluctant to listen; it would risk damaging their relationship with the Communists. But after they whisked the defector away to be interviewed at Camp X — the secret base just outside Toronto (on the border between Whitby and Oshawa) — they began to believe the things he was telling them. When the information finally became public, people were shocked. Those old anti-Communist feelings were stirred up once again. Many historians consider the Zabotin episode to be "the spark that ignited the Cold War."
♥ Just a few years earlier, Canadians leaders were hailing the people of Stalingrad as the saviours of democracy and the entire free world. Now, those very same leaders were demonizing those very same people as the gravest threat to democreacy the world had ever known.
And in Toronto, the city whose citizens had once held the dead of Stalingrad dear in their hearts, the fact that it had ever happened at all was quickly and conveniently forgotten.
♥ In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Great Lakes were filled with lucxuty liners. YThe ships carried hundreds of passengers from ports on nboth sides of the biorder, steaming around the l;akes in style. It was a nmajor industy for nearly a centiry/. As a member of the Toronto Marine historical Society once put it: "At one time there were more people asleep on boats on the Great Lakes than on any ocean in the world."
SS Noronic was one of the biggest and most decadent of them all. hey called the ship "The Queen of the Lakes." It had a ballroom, a dining hall, a barber shop and a beauty salon, music rooms and writing rooms, a library, a playroom for children even its own newspaper printed on board for the passengers.
♥ The Noronic's maiden voyage had almost been a disaster. The ship was scheduled to set sail for the first time in November of 1913, just as the biggest storm in the recorded history of the Great Lakes rolled into the region. For three straight days, the tempest lashed the lakes with hurricane-force winds, waves fifteen metres high, and torrents of rain and snow. The Noronic was lucky: the ship stayed in port where it was safe. But more than two hundred and fifty people died in the storm. So many ships were destroyed there's an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to listing them.
♥ He followed it back to its source: smoke billowed out from under the closed door of a linen closet. The most deadly fire in Toronto's history had begun.
..The Noronic was shockingly unprepared for an emergency. But no one seemed to think that was a major concern: for thirty-six years, the ship sailed without incident.
Right up until 1949.
..People were burned alive in their beds. They were suffocated in their rooms. They rushed along the decks and hallways in flames. A few were trampled to death. Some smashed through windows in a bid to escape, leaving blood pouring down their faces. The most desperate jumped over the sides of the ship, the lucky ones hitting the water where rescuers — police, firemen, and passersby — were pulling people from the lake. One person drowned. Another hit the pier and died from the impact. Other jumpers didn't make it clear of the ship; they smashed into the decks below, making them slippery with their blood. When the first ladder was finally hoisted yup against the burning hull, passengers pushed forward in such a rush that the ladder snapped, tossing people into the water.
They say the screams of the victims were even louder than the sirens and the ship's piercing whistle. It was one of the most horrifying scenes ever witnessed in the city of Toronto.
♥ Even then, many of the bodies were burned so badly they were unrecognizable. Entirely new techniques of x-ray identification had to e developed. It was one of the first times dental records were used for forensic purposes.
Eventually, the death toll was recorded at 119 lives. To this day, no one is entirely sure that number is accurate. But if it's anywhere close, it's the most people ever killed by a single disaster in the history of the city.
♥ For the first time, all ships sailing on the Great Lakes would have to meet real, enforced safety regulations. But it wouldn't be cheap. It cost a lot to run a big ship that wasn't a death trap; it was expensive to keep a luxury liner afloat if it wasn't allowed to burst into flames every once in a while. In the wake of the tragedy in Toronto, the industry collapsed. The golden age of cruising on the Great Lakes in style had come to a bloody end.
♥ It rained and rained and rained. Day after day it rained, barely ever stopping — a thoroughly grey and soggy week in October of 1954. And as that week finally came to an end, it was raining even harder than before. By the time Toronto's soaking commuters headed home on Friday evening — packed into damp streetcars and Toronto's brand new subway line — the steady shower had grown into a torrential downpour.
Everyone knew the storm was coming. Scientists had been tracking it for ten days now — ever since a plane full of hurricane hunters first spotted it off the coast of South America. All week long, they'd been watching as Hazel made its way north, devastating every community in its path. On Tuesday night, the hurricane tore through Haiti, killing hundreds. On Wednesday afternoon, it hit the Bahamas and killed six more. On Friday morning, as people in Toronto settled in at work, Hazel was crashing into the coast of the southern United States. Dozens of Americans died over the course of the day. The storm cut a vicious swath through the Carolinas and up into Virginia. By dinnertime, Hazel was raging through the streets of Washington, D.C.
..Outside, in the dark, Hazel raged. The hurricane had slowed down on its way over the Alleghenies, but then it ran into a front of cold, Canadian air. As it reached the northern shore of Lake Ontario, the storm stalled — pausing above Toronto as the rain fell harder and harder, drenching the city below.
That night, 150 billion litres of water fell into the Humber River's watershed — hundreds of tons of rain — and the earth, already soaked to the point of saturation, couldn't absorb any more. Almost all of it was being funnelled into the river. And so the river kept getting higher.
It only took a few minutes for the neighbourhood to flood. Raymore Drive was suddenly squarely in the middle of the Humber. The river roared like a freight train — the dirt and debris swept along in the current. Some witnesses remembered was nearly two storeys high.
♥ It was a fury unlike any city had ever seen. All over Toronto, waterways were bursting their banks — the Don, the Rouge, Etobicoke Creek, Mimico Creek, Highland Creek — sending ranging torrents of water flooding through residential neighbourhoods. Even Garrison Greek — buried in a sewer for nearly a hundred years — was brought rushing back to the surface. In Trinity Bellwoods Park, people watched in astonishment as manhole covers went flying and geysers burst high into the air. Roads were destroyed, bridges washed away, homes flattened. Cars were plucked from the streets and hurled downstream. Trees snapped like matchsticks, smashing into houses. Downed hydro wites hissed and sparked in the dark.
♥ As dawn finally broke the next morning, survivors found an entire block of Raymore Drive had been wiped off the map. Sixteen houses were gone. In their place were tons of mud, boulders, and wreckage. Just a day earlier, Raymore had been a lovely residential road; now, it looked like the bottom of a riverbed. It would become known as "The Street That Never Was."
♥ In the wake of the disaster, the city developed a groundbreaking new plan for flood control. They built dams and reservoirs and retraining walls, installed concrete channels, and redirected streams. Thousands upon thousands of acres of land were expropriated in order to turn Toronto's floodplains into parkland. The city didn't want anyone living there when the next big storm hit.
And so that's what happened to Raymore Drive. Those houses were never rebuilt: the block that was once underwater is now home to Raymore Park, where children play on swings and race each pother along the running trail. But not all the signs of Hazel have been completely erased. There on the banks of the river, you'll still find the ruins of the original footbridge, battered and destroyed by the storm — a chilling concrete reminder of the horror that swept through Toronto on that terrible October night.
♥ It was around six o'clock in the evening when they first noticed the smoke. A dozen construction workers were toiling away, more than ten metres beneath the snowy earth of Hogg's Hollow near Yonge and York Mills. They were putting in a new water main. It would be the last thing some of them ever did.
..It would be more than an hour before anyone else could enter the tunnel. By then, Pasquale Allegrezza, Giovanni Fusillo, Giovanni Correglio, Alessandro Mantella, and Guido Mantella were all dead. Andruschuk was the only survivor, miraculously dragged to safety, disoriented but alive, hours after the fire had started.
The city's Italian community was devastated — and outraged. In the wake of the disaster, a fund was created to help the victims' families. There was a benefit concert at Massey Hall. Italian construction workers organized strikes: thousands walked off the job demanding stronger safety regulations and enforcement. The big unions eventually backed them, too, organizing their own sympathy strikes. The Toronto Telegram newspaper ran one front-page story after another in support, with headlines like "SLAVE IMMIGRANTS." The provincial government finally ordered a royal commission to investigate. In the end, stricter safety and labour laws were passed.
♥ Much of Toronto has quite literally been built by immigrants. For more than two hundred years, new arrivals to the city have been hired to build its bridges, pave its streets, and dig its sewers. British hands raised the timbers of Fort York. Germans carved Yonge Street out of the forest. The country's railways were connected to the West by thousands of Chinese workers. As one decade has turned into the next, labourers have streamed into Toronto from Ireland, Ukraine, Poland, the Caribbean... countless countries from all over the world. And in return, those new Canadians have generally been treated very poorly. Many of them have died building the city.
hearts; In the first two decades after the end of the Second World War, more than a hundred thousand new Canadians streamed into Toronto from Italy. A full third of the men who found jobs in the city found those jobs in the constructions industry. A full third of all of the builders in Toronto were Italian.
The working conditions were terrible. Competition between subcontractors led to poor wages and corruption. They forced their employees to work long hours for little pay. Some refused to hire a worker unless that worker was willing to give them a cut of their wages. Some employers disappeared without playing wages at all. Unions, already facing hard times, looked down on the new arrivals as unskilled labour, and were reluctant to represent them.
Many employers refused to follow safety regulations. All over Toronto, men were falling to their deaths, or being impaled, or cut by broken glass, or weakened by exposure. "It was like our life was so cheap," one Italian bricklayer remembered, "not worth anything. Like we could hear a builder saying, 'Some Italians died today, got injured, Oh well, send us another load.'"
♥ It's a pattern Toronto has repeated many times over the last two hundred years: new public health regulations introduced after cholera devastated the city in 1832, new sewer system improvements after typhoid outbreaks in the late 1800s and early 1900s, new building codes after the Great Fire of 1849 and then again after the Great Fire of 1904, new safety laws after the burning of the Noronic, flood plain protection after Hazel. Over and over again: it takes death and disaster for things to change.
♥ It all started with the coffeehouses. For decades, Toronto had had a reputation as a notoriously boring city. More than a century after the end of the Family Compact, it was still a very conservative place: very British and very reserved. But by the end of the 1950s, that was finally beginning to change. Toronto was becoming multicultural. In the wake of the war, European immigrants were moving to the city in bigger numbers than ever before. Many of them ended up in Yorkville — and they brought their European-style cafés with them.
It was a beginning of a revolution. Suddenly, there was somewhere cool where you could hang out and get buzzed on caffeine and nicotine: you could drink fancy coffee, smoke cigarettes, and talk about ideas. Some of the cafés even had patios — something Toronto had never really seen before.
Those first few coffeehouses helped turn Yorkville into a magnet for young artists and intellectuals. By the beginning of the 1960s, the first Beatniks had arrived. Over the course of the next few years, the quiet, residential neighbourhood was transformed into a bustling scene of sex, drugs, and rock & roll.
Young people came from all over the continent, streaming into those few blocks near Yonge and Bloor. There were hippies, greasers, and weekenders. Bohemian runaways from the suburbs. Hitchhikers from the Prairies. Draft-dodgers from the United States. There were bikers, potheads, and acid freaks. Writers like Margaret Atwood and William Gibson. Poets like Gwendolyn MacEwen and Dennis Lee.
Everywhere you went, there was music. It spilled out onto the sidewalks from almost every doorway. The coffeehouses hired folk musicians; some turned into rock & roll clubs. At the height of the scene, those few blocks were home to as many as thirty or forty music venues. Inside, you would find some of the greatest musicians Canada has ever produced: Gordon Lightfoot at the Riverboat; Ian and Sylvia at the Village Corner; Murray McLaughlin and David Clayton-Thomas and visitors from out of town like Leonard Cohen and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
♥ The group's manager was the owner of the club; he also owned a pet store where he sold real, live mynah birds. He used the band as something of a sales gimmick. He even convinced them to dress up in mynah bird-inspired outfits: black leather jackets and pants with yellow turtlenecks and boots. He got the band to sing tunes like "The Mynah Bird Hop" and "The Mynah Bird Song."
But behind all of the cheesy gimmicks, the Mynah Birds were one of the most promising young bands in Yorkville. The group was full of future stars — members of the Mynah Birds would go on to play in some of the defining bands of thew 1960s. Two are still household names: one of them a folk singer from Winnipeg who loved hearses [(Neil Young)], the other a black R&B singer with a dead man's name [(Rick James)].
♥ By the end of that first night, he was stoned and getting up on stage at a coffeehouse on Yorkville Avenue, convinced he was a better singer than the frontman of that night's band. And he wads right. Impressed, the group's bassist — a future member of Steppenwolf, just like the keyboardist — came up to him after the gig and offered him a job as their regular vocalist. Soon, they were calling themselves The Sailor Boys, repurposing bits and pieces from his navy uniform for their stage costumes. In time, they would morph into the Mynah Birds.
After just a few hours in Yorkville, Johnson already had a new band. And now, he would get a new name, too. One of his newfound friends offered to let him crash at his apartment. And when he got there, the guy's girlfriend asked go Johnson's name.
"If you AWOL," she said, "you best change your name... We'll call you Rick — Ricky James Matthews. That's my cousin's name. He's dead, so he won't mind."
A couple of years later, when Ricky James Matthews found himself recording at the Motown studios in Detroit, a sixteen-year-old Stevie Wonder told him his new name was too long. "Ricky James more like it." Ricky got shortened to Rick. And so James Johnson was calling himself Rick James when he became famous — the funk star behind the 1980s smash hit "Super Freak." He would go on to sell millions of albums under that dead man's name.
♥ But in the summer of 1965, [Neil Young] was drawn back to Toronto: a shaggy, long-haired teenager with dreams of making it big.
"The Yorkville scene," he later remembered, "I'd never seen anything like it. Music was everywhere.... It was like this big deal. Toronto in '65."
♥ The guitarist was another old veteran of the Yorkville scene: Zal Yanovsky.
Yanovsky grew up in the Toronto suburb of Downsview before heading downtown to try his hand at folk music. To get by, he worked as a waiter at the Purple Onion coffeehouse (where Buffy Sainte-Marie wrote "Universal Soldier"); he stole milk bottles off front porches and spent his nights sleeping wherever he could. He met his future wife — the actor Jackie Burroughs, who would eventually portray Aunt Hetty in Road to Avonlea — while he was sleeping in a dryer in a laundromat at Dupont and St. George.
It didn't take long for Yanovsky's career to pick up steam. Once it did, he moved to New York City with his Yorkville bandmate, Denny Doherty. In Greenwich Village, they started a new band with an up-and-coming young folk singer called Mama Cass. And while she and Doherty eventually dropped acid with some friends, threw a dart at a map, and moved to the Virgin Islands where they became the Mamas & the Papas, Yanovsky stayed behind and started the Lovin' Spoonful instead.
♥ When he returned to Yorkville, James shared those fresh ideas with the Mynah Birds' new bassist, Bruce Palmer. Palmer knew exactly which guitar player they should get to complement their new, folk-influenced sound. His name was Neil Young. He was living with Joni Mitchell, crashing at her apartment above the Purple Onion.
..The Mynah Birds were now on the cutting edge. In just a few years, nearly everyone would be doing what they were doing now; that drug-fuelled blend of folk, blues, and rock became one of the defining sounds of the hippie era. With Rick James on vocals and Neil Young on guitar, the Mynah Birds were the sound of the future.
Success came quickly. Just a few weeks after Young joined the band, they were heading down Highway 401 to Detroit to launch their recording career with Motown Records.
♥ Most of the band had no clue James was AWOL. But the manager did. He ratted James out to the FBI. Suddenly, Motown didn't want to work with the Mynah Birds anymore. They pulled the contract. And the band wouldn't be able to sign with any other major American label, either. Just when it seemed everything was finally coming together, it was suddenly over. The Mynah Birds were done.
♥ This wasn't Young's first hearse. Back in Winnipeg, he'd bought a big old 1948 Buick Roadmaster. He called it Mort. It was perfect for a young musician. it had lots of space for equipment, and the rollers that had once been used to move coffins in and out of the back of the velvet-lined interior could just as easily be used to move amplifiers, drum kits, and guitars.
Mort had taken Young from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay, and he hoped to drive it all the way south to Toronto. But the Roadmaster didn't make it. Mort died on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway. Young made up a whole story about giving Mort a proper sendoff by pushing it over a cliff, but the truth is he just left it there, abandoned in a hotel parking lot somewhere between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury. He hitchhiked the rest of the way to Toronto. One day he would write a song about that car: "Long May You Run" — fifty years later he played it as the flame was extinguished at the Vancouver Olympics.
♥ Young spent one last night at a friend's apartment on Avenue Road, jamming with Jon Kay — the frontman of the Sparrows, a band that featured a couple of former Mynah Birds and would soon move to California and become Steppenwolf. The next morning, Young parked Mort II on a corner of Avenue Road and asked if anyone wanted to go to Los Angeles. Friends piled in.
"We were just an old funeral coach full of stoned hippies heading southwest to Hollywood, California, where the music scene was vibrant and the West Coast Sound was on fire."
One week later, Young and Palmer had a brand new band: Buffalo Springfield. By the end of the month, they were on tour opening for the Byrds. Just days after leaving Yorkville behind, Neil Young was already well on his way to becoming one of the most famous rock stars in the world.
♥ If you were a Canadian musician who wanted to make it big in the 1960s, it helped to leave Canada behind.
And that wasn't the only reason the Yorkville scene was doomed. For many young Canadians, Yorkville was the mot exciting neighbourhood in the ctounry. But there were lots of people in Toronto who were perfectly happy to live in a safe, conservative city with a reputation for being boring. To them, the idea of a horde of young people taking over an entire neighbourhood so they could smoke pot, play music, and get laid was a deeply frightening one. Newspapers were filled with scaremongering stories about "ruined" young women, worried parents, and a wildly exaggerated hepatitis outbreak. Some of the stories did have some truth to them: as the 1970s approached, the scene did begin to fall into harder drugs like amphetamines and the influence of the Vagabonds biker gang grew even more powerful. But the neighbourhood was never the rancid pit of depravity many Torontonians imagined to be.
♥ As the sixties concluded and the seventies began, developers moved in with bulldozers; wrecking balls tore through one coffeehouse after another. Today, only a few of those old Victorian buildings survive — and most of those that haven't been turned into rubble have been turned into upscale fashion boutiques. The neighbourhood that once served as a giant crash pad for Canadian youth is now a shopping district for some of Toronto's wealthiest residents and tourists.
Still, while the hippies of Yorkville might have lost the battle for their neighbourhood, they won the war. Yorkville's musicians, writers, and artists spread out across the city; they turned up in Kensington Market and on Queen Street West and just down Bloor Street at Rochdale College for a while. They started new record labels and publishing houses; they kept writing books and poems and songs. In time, they filled Toronto with dozens of new art galleries, bookstores, and grungy music clubs that have fostered countless new music scenes since the days of Neil Young and Rick James. There's now a coffeehouse on nearly every corner.
Toronto might have killed Yorkville. But before it did, Yorville changed Toronto forever.
♥ As the summer of '77 began, Queen Street West was becoming the centre of the city's new punk scene: art students and working-class kids in leather jackets roamed the sidewalks roamed the sidewalks, some looking so strange they brought traffic to a halt. The songs they liked were short, fast, loud, and furious. Their shows became notorious for displays of theatrical violence: the most infamous band in the city was the Viletones, whose frontman, Steven Leckie, called himself "Nazi Dog" and sliced his veins open with broken glass on stage. The scene was raw and wild. That summer, those in the know started talking about Toronto as being home to some of the greatest punk bands on the planet.
The burgeoning scene was centred on the Crash 'N' Burn, an artist-run punk club in the basement of a small office building on Duncan street (just a few blocks south of Queen). On Friday and Saturday night, when most of downtown Toronto was dead quiet, the Crash 'N' Burn was a roar of distortion.
♥ Just a few weeks after The Curse debuted, Toronto was rocked by one of the most brutal and shocking murders the city had ever seen. Emanuel Jaques was just twelve years old when he was killed — a shoeshine boy who worked on the Yonge Street Strip, polishing shoes in the neon glow of the strip clubs and porno theatres. One day, near the end of July, as he was shining shoes on the corner of Younge and Dundas, he was approached by a stranger who bought him a hamburger and offered him a job moving some pornography equipment. It was the last time anyone saw Jaques alive.
His body was found four days later, wrapped in a green garbage bag on the roof of a massage parlour just across the street from the Eaton Centre. He'd been raped repeatedly, injected with needles, and finally drowned in a sink.
..The Curse were so upset they wrote a song about the murder. "Shoeshine Boy" was an angry screed against those who let Jaques work alone on the Strip.
..When the public caught wind of the song, it caused an uproar. Toronto, already suspicious of the punk scene and charged with emotion over the murder and the subsequent trial, turned on the band. The Curse were accused of exploiting the tragedy for their own personal gain.
♥ A city that had shut down the Yorkville coffeehouses just a few years earlier certainly wasn't comfortable with punks taking the place of hippies. Bands had a hard time finding anywhere to play. The Crash 'N' Burn lasted only a few raucous months. The Liberal Party of Ontario had an office upstairs; by the end of the summer, their complaints about the noise and rowdiness forced the club to shut down. The heart of the scene moved into the Horseshoe Tavern, but the owners soon told the punks they weren't welcome there anymore, either. The final concert, "The Last Pogo," descended into a riot when police tried to shut it down.
..On Yonge Street, things got even uglier. In the wake of the murder, City Hall cracked down on the Strip.
..The "cleanup" of Yonge Street never did drive the sex industry completely off the Strip; it's still home to strip clubs and sex shops today. And the punks didn't go anywhere, either; forty years later, you can still find punk bands playing the bars of Queen West. In the battle over the future of Toronto — between those who wanted to pretend it was still a small, sheltered town and those who recognized it had become a major cosmopolitan metropolis — there was never any question which side would win. For better and for worse, Toronto really was a big city.
♥ "I am going to die. I am going to be young when I die." Jim Black was thirty-seven years old when he said those words. And he was right. He wouldn't live to see his next birthday. He'd been diagnosed earlier that year — one of the first people in Canada to be told he had AIDS.
This was 1985. It had only been four years since doctors began to notice the first signs of the outbreak in the United States. Since then, it had spread across the continent with terrifying speed.
Now, AIDS had arrived in Toronto. By the spring of '85, fifty-four people in the city had been diagnosed. More than twenty of them were already dead. The number of cases was growing quickly. By fall, the number had nearly doubled. On average, a new case was being diagnosed somewhere in Canada every thirty-six hours.
♥ Even in an increasingly liberal metropolis like Toronto, homophobia intensified the paranoia — the disease arrived in the city just two years after police unleashed one of their most notorious crackdowns on the gay community, arresting hundreds in the "Operation Soap" bathhouse raids. As one local advocate put it, AIDS was "a bigot's dream."
In those early years, silence was a powerful and frightening enemy. As 1985 dawned, U.S. President Ronald Reagan had yet to even say the word AIDS, refusing to publicly name the plague as thousands of his citizens died. Many patients were understandably worried about going public with their story, scared of the discrimination they would face if they did. Fear and prejudice filled the vacuum. Misinformation wads everywhere.
♥ As part of those efforts, they decided to produce a documentary film. There had been movies made about the medical issues related to the disease, but No Sad Songs would be the first to focus on the human impact. Directed by Nik Sheehan, it would use interviews and artistic performances to explore the emotional toll AIDS was taking.
Jim Black would be at the centre of the film. He became one of the very first Canadian AIDS patients to go public with his case.
..In No Sad Songs, he speaks with candour and humour about his symptoms and his impending death, determined to make his final days count.
♥ Progress was slow, but things were gradually changing. By the end of that year, the AIDS committee of Toronto had organized the city's first AIDS vigil and the first Canadian Conference on AIDS had been held in Montreal. The year after that, the City of Toronto introduced an official AIDS strategy. And while Black was one of the first, in the years to come more and more AIDS patients would go public with their stories, following in the footsteps of those first few pioneers.
Toronto activists, filmmakers, writers, musicians, artists, and actors would all produce work about the disease, helping to change public perception. The Torontonian art collective General Idea would lose two of three members to AIDS: but first they took Robert Indianan's famous LOVE logo and swapped L-O-V-E out for A-I-D-S, creating stickers and posters that would be plastered all over the cities on both sides of the Atlantic. While the struggle against AIDS continues to this day, the silence was finally broken.
Jim Black didn't live to see that progress. He died at his mother's house in Simcoe just sixteen months after he was diagnosed. "This is my one contribution to life," he told a reporter during that final, extraordinary summer. "And I have to die to make it."
♥ Just two years earlier, Toronto had opened its first railway and built its first locomotive. They called it the Toronto: the great iron beast spent nearly a week crawling through the streets of the city, inched forward by crowbars along temporary tracks until it finally took its place on the rails. The new wonder of the industrial age would serve the very same function as the ancient Toronto Carrying Place trail: the city's first railways would run north, connecting Lake Ontario to the Upper Great Lakes.
♥ And so, if you were a Toronto entrepreneur who made your living off grain, the new railway and the promise of future profit made 1855 the perfect time to charter a new bank.
They called it the Bank of Toronto. They opened their first branch on Church Street near Adelaide (the building is still there today, number 80, right across the road from St. James Cathedral). They began with three employees but as Canadian agriculture boomed, so did the bank. Soon, they were opening new branches across the province; they expanded into Montreal just a few years later. At first, their customers were almost all farmers and grain merchants, although the bank's clientele also included the millers, brewers, and distillers who relied on grain to make their product. And in time, they would branch out into other sectors of the growing Canadian economy.
♥ The Dominion Bank would prove to be one of the most successful. It wads founded by another group of Toronto investors — this one led by James Austin. He was an Irish Protestant who had come to the city as a teenager. He got his start serving as a printing apprentice under William Lyon Mackenzie; he'd been forced to flee after the rebellion and spent a few years living in the United States. But when he returned he opened a grocery with another Irish immigrant — a rare partnership between a Protestant and a Catholic — which went so well he was soon able to expand into other businesses. By the end of the 1860s, he was rich enough to buy the old Baldwin estate at Spadina. He tore down their home and built his own: the Spadina House you'll find there today.
♥ Each built lavish new headquarters in what became Toronto's financial district. The Bank of Toronto Building stood at the corner of King and Bay: a majestic Beaux-Arts masterpiece designed by the same architects as the New York Public Library. The Dominion Bank was at King and Yonge; it's still there today, serving as the base to the modern, fin-shaped tower of One King West. With the opulent magnificence of its banking hall and an impregnable vault in the basement, it's one of the great surviving jewels from Toronto's Edwardian age.
♥ You can trace it back all the way to Berlin, to the studio of the one of the world's most important designers. Peter Behrens used to run one of the legendary Arts and Crafts schools and became the first pers on to design an entire corporate brand. He was also an architect, and hired students and assistants to help him with his work. Three in particular would go on to take their place among the most important architects of the twentieth century: Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
By the time the 1920s rolled around, that trip had already begun to change architecture forever. The giant bloody horrifying mess of the First world War had convinced plenty of artists that traditional aesthetics — like traditional politics — had failed. The architects embraced the new. They stripped their designs down to the essentials and built them out of modern materials: steel, concrete, and glass. They would become associated with slogans like "Form follow function," "Ornament is a crime," "Truth to materials," and "Less is more." Their stark rectangles and straight lines would change the face of the world. Le Corbusier would become the most famous architect on Earth. Gropiuus would open the influential Bauhaus art school. And he would eventually get Mies to run it.
♥ Mies escaped to the United States.
He ended up in Chicago, where he launched an entire "Second Chicago School" of architecture, based on the modernist principles he brought with him from Europe. Soon, slick, grid-based skyscrapers of steel and glass were towering over downtown Chicago. And Mies started getting commissions to design other important buildings across the United States.
♥ The Bronfmans made a fortune. Before long, they had enough money to buy out one of Canada's big liquor companies: Seagram's. It was under the Seagram brand that they would become world-famous.
Things went so well that 1954 they began to build bran new headquarters in New York City. An iconic new skyscraper. Black. Steel. Walls of glass. The most expensive ever built. And the man they hired to design it was, of course, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
With the Seagram Building, Mies helped to set the standard for skyscraper construction in New York City for decades to come.
♥ In the century since they were chartered, the Bank of Toronto and the Dominion Bank had continued to grow. They came out of the Second World War stronger than ever. But with the world's economy evolving, they decided they needed to take another big step: in the mid-fifties, while Mies was building the new Seagram offices, the two big Toronto banks negotiated a merger. The Toronto-Dominion Bank was born.
A new company called for new headquarters. And the optimism of the new age called for a bold, ambitious design by one of the world's great modernist architects. The bank teamed up with the Bronbfmans to hire Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
The Toronto-Dominion Centre would be deeply informed by the Seagram Building: simple, sleek, and elegant — what Mies called "skin and bones architecture." The gorgeous old Bank of Toronto Building was demolished to make way for two new black bank towers. They would rise far above every other skyscraper in town. For decades, the Bank of Commerce Building had been the city's tallest at thirty-six storeys; the TD Centre would have fifty-six and become the tallest in Canada. It would dominate the skyline for years to come: two imposing black monoliths towering over Toronto.
But, as big as they would be, much of their charm would be found in the smallest of touches. "God is in the details," Mies once said — and he would put that philosophy to use in his new Toronto complex. Every detail was meticulously planned: from the Barcelona chairs in the lobby to yellow daisies sitting in round vases on the tellers' counter. Five decades later, you can still find those endearing flourishes being used today.
..Now, countless condo towers are joining them as the Toronto skyline grows thick with steel and glass. But the Toronto-Dominion Centre will always be the graceful original. As the Globe's architecture critic, Alex Bozikovic, put it, "TD Centre still retains the purity of a temple... the most distinguished set of bindings in Canada."
It's no surprise that fifty years after they were built, Mies's sleek black towers still attract some of the most powerful and affluent tenants in the city: from tech giants to multinational investment groups to the Consulate General of Japan... and more than a few law/ firms, too.
♥ For the better part of fifty years, they sat in the basement of the Royal Ontario Museum: three hundreds boxes filled with bones. They were the dead of Ossossané, the Wendat village where the Feast of the Dead was held in 1636. They were the very same bones Jean de Brébeuf had seen buried nearly four centuries ago.
The exact location of the famous ossuary had been tracked down on the shores of Georgian Bay by an amateur archaeologist. When he found the spot in the 1940s, he contacted the ROM to let them know. The museum sent a team of archaeologists to the site and for six weeks in the summer of 1947, they dug into the communal grave; then again in the summer of '48. By the end of their excavations, they had unearthed the bones of more than six hundred people.
Most of the dead were taken to the ROM. They were stored away in cardboard boxed while artifacts from the grave were put on public display. Some of the bones were loaned out to researchers: teams from the University of Toronto and Temple University in Philadelphia studied the remains.
No on bothered to ask permission. The Wendat nation was never consulted in any way during the excavation. Their ancestors were dug up out of the ground and hauled off to a museum without their consent.
It was a profound desecration. As Wendat historian Georges E. Sioui points out, "The Wendats had strict moral precepts about the disposal of human remains." One of the French missionaries who attended a Feast of the Dead in the early 1600s was clear about that in his own writing. "Nothing could give them greater offence than to ransack and remove anything in the tombs of their relatives," the missionary explained, "and if anyone is found doing so he cannot look for anything short of a most cruel and painful death." When a fire broke out in a Wendat village, he said, they would rush to protect the bodied of their dead relatives before saving even their own homes.
♥ Over and over again, the histories of Indigenous people and the city's own settlers have been bulldozed in the name of progress. In the early 1900s, when city workers found ancient footprints on the bottom of Toronto Harbour — thought to have been made eleven thousand years ago; one of the most remarkable pieces of history ever discovered in this part of the world — they simply poured over them with concrete and kept going. There was work to be done: a city to be built.
♥ Even after Denonville's scorched-earth campaign, the Toronto Purchase swindle, the betrayal at the end of the War of 1812, generations of residential schools, and countless other forms of genocide there are tens of thousands of Indigenous people still living on this land today.
Many of the descendants of the Wendat villagers who performed the Feast of the Dead now live on the Wendake reserve in Quebec. They never gave up on the souls of Ossossané.
In the 1990s, they contacted the ROM to begin the process of reclaiming their dead. First, the museum returned ownership of the land to the Wendat nation. And then, on a summer day in 1999, the souls of the dead made their journey out of downtown Toronto and back to the land where they had first been buried four hundred years ago.
On that sunny August day at the end of the millennium, a modern version of the Feast of the Dead was held on the shores of Georgian Bay. Centuries after Brébeuf stood on that same spot and prayed for the end of the sacred tradition, it was being preformed once again.
♥ The City of Toronto, too, is hoping to take better care of the history held in the ground beneath it: of the First Nations and their ancestors, and of the settlers who have made this place their home over the last two hundred years. In 2002, the city began to develop an Archaeological Master Plan to help ensure the physical traces of those who have lived and died won't be so carelessly wiped out in the future.
♥ The dead are all around us. We live in their city: the Toronto they built. We sleep in their homes. We drive on their roads. They founded our institutions and our traditions, building on patterns of life and death that stretch back for thousands upon thousands of years in this place. They haunt us and guide us even as we forget they are there. Some rest in the ground below our city to this very day, their bones collected in Victorian cemeteries and ancient burial mounds. Their flesh turned to dust, they have become the land beneath our feet.