This is an ancient, sacred place. It's a hill in Scarborough, about 700 years old, with nearly 500 people buried inside it. It's near Lawrence & Bellamy, a few storeys high, looking out over bungalows for miles in all directions. It was made sometime around the years 1250-1300 as a burial mound by the Wendat (who the Europeans called the Huron) during a Feast of the Dead. The Feasts were held every time a village moved to a new location — every 10-15 years or so, at the end of the winter. Those who had been buried during that time were dug up for the 10-day Feast before having their bones cleaned and then re-buried in a communal grave like this one. Today, we call it Tabor Hill and it's one of the most remarkable places in Toronto.
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Monday, January 25, 2016
It was late. The Noronic was quiet. The ship was docked at the foot of Yonge Street, gently rocking in the dark waves. Almost everyone on board was already fast asleep. It was two-thirty in the morning; most of those who had enjoyed a night out in the city had come back to their rooms and gone to bed. Hundreds of passengers were tucked beneath their sheets.Don Church was still up, though, heading back to his room from the lounge. He worked as an appraiser for a fire insurance company, so he knew what it meant when he found a strange haze in one of the corridors. 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 was just getting started.
The Noronic had first set sail all the way back in 1913: in the glory days of Great Lakes cruise ships. In the late-1800s and early-1900s, the Great Lakes were filled with luxury liners. The ships carried hundreds of passengers from ports on both sides of the border, steaming across the lakes in style. It was a major industry for nearly a century. As a member of the Toronto Marine Historical Society put it: "At one time there were more people asleep on boats on the Great Lakes than on any ocean in the world."
The SS Noronic was one of the biggest and most decadent of them all. They called her "The Queen of the Lakes." She 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 her own newspaper printed on board for the passengers.
|The SS Noronic in 1930ish|
Storms were far from the only danger. Ships capsized or collided with each other. They sank. Many — like one of the Noronic's own sister ships, the Hamonic — burst into flame. In the early days of the industry, there were essentially no meaningfully-enforced safety regulations at all. And even when the first new laws were introduced, there were loopholes for existing ships. The Noronic was shockingly unprepared for an emergency. But no one seemed to think that was a big deal: for 36 years, she sailed without incident.
Right up until 1949. That September, the Noronic left Detroit for a week-long trip to the Thousand Islands. The cruise brought her to Toronto on a cool Friday night, docked at Pier 9 (right near where the ferry terminal is today). Her passengers and crew streamed ashore to enjoy the city. And when they came back at the end of the night, all was quiet and calm. For a while.
By the time Don Church discovered the source of the smoke, it was already too late. And when he finally found a bellboy to help him, the bellboy didn't pull the fire alarm; instead, he got the keys to open the closet door. A hellish backdraft burst into the corridor. The flames spread quickly. When Church and the bellboy tried to use a fire hose, the hose didn't work. Neither did any of the others. Even worse, the ship's hallways were lined with wood paneling: for decades now, the wood had been carefully polished with lemon oil. It was the perfect fuel for the flames. Meanwhile, stairwells acted like chimneys, funneling oxygen to the blaze.
Eight minutes later, the ship's whistle jammed while issuing a distress signal and let loose with one endless, piercing shriek. By then, half the ship was already on fire. In a few more minutes, the rest of the Noronic was in flames, too. Survivors later said the whole thing went up like the head of a match.
|Firefighters fighting the fire|
At first, the dead were pulled from the wreckage and piled up on the pier, but there were so many that eventually the Horticultural Building at the CNE was turned into a makeshift morgue. (Today, that same building is home to the Muzik nightclub.) For the next few weeks, the authorities struggled to identify the bodies. It was next to impossible. No one even knew how many people had been on board the ship. Some of them were unregistered: guests from Toronto visiting friends. Some had registered under fake names: taking a romantic cruise with someone who wasn't their spouse. Most of the passengers were American, so their families would have to make the grim journey north to see if they could identify any of the charred remains. Even then, many of the bodies were burnt so badly they were unrecognizable. Entirely new techniques of x-ray identification had to be developed. It was one of the very first times that dental records were ever used forensically. Eventually, the death toll was pegged at 119 lives. To this day, no one is entirely sure that number is quite right. But if it's anywhere close, it's the most people ever killed by a single disaster in the history of Toronto.
WARNING: THE LAST TWO PHOTOS IN THIS GALLERY INCLUDE COVERED BODIES
|The Noronic (via blogTO)|
|The Noronic in Sault Ste-Marie, 1940 (via the Vancouver Archives)|
|Dining in style on the Noronic (via Torontoist)|
|On board the Noronic in 1941ish (via the Vancouver Archives)|
|The Noronic burns (via Cities In Time)|
|The Noronic burns (via the Toronto Star)|
|The Noronic burns (via the Toronto Archives)|
|The skyline watches over the wreckage (via the Toronto Archives)|
|The wreckage of the Noronic (via the Cleveland Plain-Dealer)|
|The Royal York, in the distance, took in survivors (via the Toronto Archives)|
|The wreckage of the Noronic (via the Toronto Archives)|
|The Noronic sank in the shallows (via Citizen Freak)|
|A diver searches the wreckage (via the Toronto Star)|
|The wreckage (via Wikipedia)|
|The wreckage (via the Toronto Archives)|
|A body gets pulled from the wreckage (via the Cleveland Plain-Dealer)|
|The makeshift morgue at the Horticultural Building (via the Toronto Star)|
Ellis McGrath wrote a song about it, which you can stream here.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
In the miller’s dream, his wife Elizabeth fell into the well. He was there when it happened. He heard the splash and rushed to save her: took a deep, deeeep breath and dove in. Shocked by the cold of the black water, he swam down and down and down into the murk further and further until he found her there at the distant bottom, sinking into the mud. Already, she was almost gone; only her pale face was still visible above the silt. Her eyes were wide with fear. He dug at the mud with his hands, frantic, but try as he might he couldn’t pull her out of it, could only keep it at bay, and soon his burning lungs forced him back to the surface for another gulp of air.By the time he dove again, she was gone.
Learn more about his true story here. Explore more Toronto Dreams Project postcards here.
Friday, January 8, 2016
The Most Dangerous Woman in the World was playing a quiet game of cards. It was a snowy Toronto evening in the winter of 1940, that first terrible winter of the Second World War. She was staying with friends at their home on Vaughan Road, waiting for a meeting to begin. That's when she slumped over in her chair. It was a stroke. One of the greatest orators of the twentieth century couldn't speak a word.This wasn't the end most people would have expected for Emma Goldman. For decades now, she'd been the most notorious anarchist on earth. Her ideas made nations tremble: thoughts about freedom and free speech and free love; about feminism and marriage and birth control; about violence and pacifism and war. She'd been thrown out of the United States for those ideas, forced to flee Soviet Russia, driven out of Latvia, Sweden, Germany... Canada was one of the very few places where she was still relatively welcome. She spent decades in exile. And everywhere she went, she refused to be intimidated: giving fiery speeches, sparking riots, inspiring assassins, visiting war zones. Nothing could silence her. Not exile, not prison, not threats of violence. Nothing, that is, until that quiet game of cards.
The first stroke didn't kill her. She still had a few weeks left to live, weakened and afraid, half-paralyzed, robbed of the powerful voice that had made her famous. But even on her deathbed, she had one more fight to win. There was one last life to save.
|Young Attilio Bortolotti|
One day, during an air raid, his young nephew was in danger of being crushed by falling debris. Bortolotti watched in amazement as a German officer — the enemy — threw himself over the young boy and saved his life. It was a shock. This wasn't the image of the Germans the Italian newspapers were painting: of the inhuman, savage "Hun."
|Anarchist theatre bombing, 1893|
He got off the train at Union Station in the fall of 1929 — just a few weeks before the stock market crashed. At first, he didn't know anyone in the city. But when he took his leaflets to an Italian neighbourhood on the anniversary of the Sacco and Vanzetti executions, he met a few Italian socialists and Communists who introduced him to another anarchist.
Before long they'd created their own Torontonian anarchist group: Il Gruppo Libertario. They published their own newspaper, organized meetings and events. They became familiar faces at the Labour Lyceum on Spadina Avenue: today, it's a dim sum restaurant in Chinatown (on the corner of St. Andrew Street), but back then it was the political hub for textile workers in the heart of Toronto's Jewish community. The Italians began to meet the city's other anarchists: mostly Jewish and Eastern European immigrants. The community grew. Bortolotti had finally found his home.
It was only a matter of a time before he met another anarchist who had been staying in Toronto: the most infamous anarchist the world.
|Emma Goldman, 1901 mugshot|
Still, even as a child, she was strong-willed and defiant. She had no patience for injustice. Decades before Bortolotti was shaped by the horrors of the First World War, Goldman was shaped by the horrors of Tsarist Russia.
Today, many of her ideas seem pretty obvious — an eight-hour workday, legal birth control, gay rights — but in the late 1800s and early 1900s, even those ideas were deeply radical. She quickly attracted the attention not only of the press, but also the police. Once, she was arrested for giving a talk about methods of birth control. Another time, it was for inciting a riot. ("Ask for work," she told a crowd of the starving and unemployed, "If they don't give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, then take bread.") She got so used to spending time in prison that she started to carry a book with her wherever she went, just in case she suddenly found herself in a jail cell without anything to read.
By the end of the 1800s, Goldman had become one of the biggest celebrities in the country. She was a front page staple. Red Emma, they called her. The Queen of Anarchism. The Most Dangerous Woman in the World.
And she could be dangerous. At least to some people. In those days, it felt like radical change could come at any moment. To many, the revolution didn't just seem possible, it seemed inevitable. The young Goldman was willing to do whatever she could to help. If violence was necessary, that was okay with her. Even murder.
|Emma Goldman's deportation|
But even then she wasn't willing to condemn those who did resort to violence. When President McKinley was shot, the assassin claimed that he was inspired to do it by Goldman's lectures. "Her words set me on fire," he said. Goldman was arrested and questioned, but she refused to denounce the killer. "I have never been an advocate of violence," she told the papers, but "I have always felt that when an individual resorts to violence it is the fault of the conditions above him that bring him to it."
It was a theme she often repeated. For her, the real blame for any assassination always lay with systemic oppression. "As an anarchist, I am opposed to violence. But if people want to do away with assassins, they must first do away with the conditions which produce murderers."
She was rounded up with a bunch of other anarchists and deported — all loaded onto a ship and sent to Russia. If they believed in revolution, the government told them, then the brand new Soviet state was the perfect place for them.
She would never again be allowed to live in her beloved United States, so she settled for the next best thing: she would stay in Toronto, just across the lake from Rochester, as close as she could get to her family and to the country she loved.
|The Heliconian Club, Yorkville|
"I am so terribly cut off from intellectual contact," Goldman once wrote while she was staying in Toronto. "I grow so depressed and unhappy at times it seems I could not stand it another day." When the old anarchist criticized the lack of modern books in the library, the librarian gave her a blunt reply: "We do not buy books we consider immoral." Toronto was, Goldman complained, "deadly dull."
Still, it wasn't all bad. The authorities in Toronto were more tolerant of her ideas than those in the United States had been — even if they did still screen all her mail. And there was a small, dedicated community of anarchists, artists and other progressive thinkers who were thrilled to have her in the city. They put her up in their homes, helped her to organize meetings and lectures, donated money to the causes she championed.
Plus, every time the Toronto Daily Star wrote about her — and they wrote about her a lot — it was in positively glowing terms. They called her "the world's greatest feminine apostle of free speech." "Brilliant." "[A] speaker of notable excellence." "You were impressed not only by her knowledge but also by her wisdom. She was a feminine Socrates conducting a brilliant dialogue on high and grave questions of human destiny and human conduct..."
"No woman of her generation," the Star would remember after she died, "was more widely known or lived more fully than Emma Goldman. None clung more staunchly, through adversity, to her ideals..."
Goldman became a familiar name in the local papers and in lecture halls across the city. She spoke at the Labour Lyceum on Spadina, the Heliconian Club in Yorkville, the Hygea Hall on Elm Street, the Oddfellows Temple on College — always after a stiff drink of whisky to calm her nerves. Crowds of hundreds came to see her talk about feminism, free love, politics, literature... She thundered on about Sacco and Vanzetti, denounced Toronto schools for forcing all their boys to have military training, and railed against the dangers of Stalin with such passion that local Communists would attend her lectures just so they could shout her down. She warned of a coming war before Hitler had even taken power and gave speeches condemning him when many in Toronto still thought fascism was a perfectly acceptable idea.
She became a role model in a city starved for radical thought, inspiring those who were determined to make Toronto a more progressive place, and pressuring them to do better when she thought they were falling short. It was Emma Goldman who dared to speak about birth control back when it was still illegal, giving a lecture to a packed house at the Hygea Hall, earning a roar of applause when she declared contraception to be a right. (She was careful not to mention any specific methods — that would have been blatantly illegal and landed in her in the clutches of the Toronto Police Morality Squad — but she did hand out cards directing women to doctors who could help.) And it was Emma Goldman who launched the movement to ban Toronto teachers from using physical violence as a method of disciplining their students.
She would never fully settle in Toronto; she kept living out of her suitcase, like she always did. She had three long stays in the city, but would spend long periods away from it: writing her autobiography in France, visiting the anarchists fighting the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, going on speaking tours across Canada — she was even allowed to make one last trip to the United States.
But in the end, she always came back to Toronto. And that meant she was bound to run into Attilio Bortolotti eventually.
|Toronto's Balmy Beach Swastika Club|
"We organized demonstrations and street meetings at which I... spoke, and were attacked by mounted police," Bortolotti remembered. "The authorities kept me under constant surveillance, and now they tried in earnest to deport me."
By the end of the first month of the war, the government had expanded the Act to give themselves the power to censor any literature they didn't like — and to arrest anyone found with this "dangerous" material. Hundreds of newspapers and magazines were shut down. Bookstores were raided, their owners arrested. Private homes were targeted too. Word began to spread among the Toronto anarchists: the police were raiding their homes one by one. Some rushed to burn their papers before it was too late.
Meanwhile, Bortolotti was falling ill, suffering in the cold, damp conditions of the Don Jail. He came down with bronchitis, lost twelve pounds, ran a fever of 103ºF, and finally had to be transferred into the prison's hospital ward.
Goldman refused to give up, but the campaign was taking a toll. It was, she admitted, "the hardest thing I have done in many years... [I am] frightfully weary of the struggle, and tired, tired beyond words."
That's when she suffered her first stroke.
|295 Vaughan Road|
Bortolotti was out on bail when he got the phone call. "I don’t know how I drove without causing accidents," he remembered, "because I was out of my mind. And I arrived on Vaughan Road there, and saw Emma, moaning—she couldn’t talk any more. Just to think that here was Emma, the greatest orator in America, unable to utter one word." She was half-paralyzed. There was fear in her eyes. Embarrassed that her bare knee was showing, she pulled her skirt down with one hand. Moments later, the ambulance arrived.
She spent the next six weeks at Toronto General Hospital, where they did what they could for her. She was in tears for much of that time. When she was finally well enough to go home, her speech still hadn't recovered; she struggled to say even a few words. Still, she kept working. She could understand conversations and read her letters, getting friends to write her replies.
Slowly but surely, her persistence had begun to pay off. People had started contributing to Bortolotti's defence. First, it was an Italian-American anarchist newspaper. Then, a Yiddish-language paper in New York. There was a spaghetti dinner to raise money in Chicago. A play performed in Brooklyn. Another benefit in Massachusetts. Goldman had her letters to the editor published in The Nation, The New Republic and The Canadian Forum. Eventually, some leading progressive Canadians — like the leader of the federal CCF party (the forerunner of the NDP) — were convinced to join the fight. More letters were written. There were meetings with MPs. The Star published an editorial asking the government to halt the deportation. The tide was finally turning.
Goldman lived long enough to hear the good news: Bortolotti was free to stay. They'd won. He would eventually get his Canadian citizenship, start his own successful business, and play a leading role in Toronto's anarchist community for decades to come. Thirty years later, the Globe and Mail would write about him fondly, calling him "the grand old man of Toronto anarchism."
A few months after Goldman's first stroke, she suffered a second. This time, she wouldn't recover at all. She died in the middle of May at that same house on Vaughan Road.
A service was held at the Labour Lyceum, the same hall where Goldman's resounding voice had once filled the air. For three hours people shared their stories and remembered her. The crowd was so big there wasn't enough room inside the hall; the mourners spilled out onto Spadina. A full funeral in Chicago followed, where she was laid to rest next to the martyrs of the Haymarket affair who had inspired her to become an anarchist all those years ago.
She had gone down fighting, working hard for a cause she believed in right to the very end. It's all she ever wanted.
Once, years earlier, the Star asked her if she had any regrets. "Whatever will happen will happen," she said. "I hope to die on deck, true to my ideals with my eyes towards the east — the rising star."
That's exactly what she did.
Emma Goldman's mugshot at the top of this post comes via the Women Who Kicks Ass Tumblr here. Her second mugshot, further down, was taken in Chicago in 1901. It's from Wikipedia here. The photo of Attilio Bortolotti come via estelnegre.org — which is, as far as I can guess, the website of a nationalist Catalonian libertarian group — here. The Petit Journal cover featured the anarchist bombing of the Liceo theatre in Spain (in Catalonia, actually) covers via the Spanish-language version of Wikipedia here. Her deportation photo comes via the Jewish Women's Archive here. The Nazi images of the Balmy Beach Swastika Club are from the Toronto Telegram via Chris Bateman's article about them for blogTO here.
The photos of the Heliconian Club and 295 Vaughan Road are by me, Adam Bunch.
|This post is related to dream|
41 The Most Dangerous Woman in the World
Emma Goldman, 1940
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Well, apparently I've written fewer posts on the blog this year than in any other year since I launched the Dreams Project. But I'm going to go ahead and say that's because this year's posts were bigger, longer, more detailed and more ambitious than ever before. So I'm especially happy to share my favourites from 2015. They cover everything from drunken Prime Ministers to bloody, fashion-driven wars, from ghosts to dogs to pirates, plus plenty of baseball, too. Some of them are among the most popular posts I wrote this year; others are just personal faves.The last couple of months have been especially quiet around these parts — but that's mostly because I've been caught up working on some exciting new ideas for 2016. Thanks so much to everyone who has read and shared and commented over the last twelve months. The next twelve should be a lot of fun.
The summer of 1930. It was the beginning of a difficult decade for Toronto, along with much of the rest of the world. The Great Depression had just begun. But before the stock market crashed, the boom of the 1920s had fueled construction projects all over the city. Toronto was full of elegant new landmarks — many of them still familiar to Torontonians today: Union Station, The Royal York Hotel, Maple Leaf Gardens, The Palais Royale, The Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, The Princes' Gates... And on one July day, a photographer climbed to the top of a building on the north-east corner of University & Dundas, pointed a camera south, and took this photo of our city's new skyline. It's full of interesting details, so I thought I'd give a brief "tour" of some of the buildings you can see... [continue reading this post from March 17, 2015]
Plus, I wrote a couple of other baseball-related posts this year:
On José Bautista's Bat Flip & The Making of History in Toronto
The Tragic Tale of Toronto's First Big Baseball Star
It was the summer of 1793. The summer our city was founded. On an early Tuesday morning, as the late July sun rose above Lake Ontario, a British warship sailed into Toronto Bay. She was the HMS Mississauga. She had sailed overnight from Niagara, arriving in darkness, waiting for dawn and a local fur trader to show her the way through the treacherous shoals at the mouth of the harbour. On board was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada: John Graves Simcoe. His family was with him, too. The Simcoes had come to found a new capital for the new province: a tiny muddy town that would eventually grow into a booming metropolis of concrete and glass filled with millions of people... [continue reading this post from May 27, 2015]
By then, Spadina had also been built. It was laid out as a wide avenue by William Warren Baldwin, a doctor and lawyer who also designed Osgoode Hall and would play a leading role in the political struggle for Canadian democracy. He had just built a brand new house on his sprawling country estate; it stood on the hill above Davenport: the original Spadina House. Baldwin had the grand avenue carved out of the forest south of his home in order to get a better view of the lake. The estate, the house and the new road would all be given the same name: Spadina. It's an Anglicized version of an Ojibwe word: "Ishpadinaa" ("a place on a hill").
So it was when Baldwin built his avenue in the 1820s that the intersection of Queen & Spadina was first created... [continue reading this post from June 23, 2015]
But Mackenzie wasn't ready to give up. Not yet. His failed rebellion in Toronto was just the beginning. Now, he and his supporters would launch a war against the British government in Canada, hoping a series of bloody border raids would spark a full-scale democratic revolution. It would last a year — for pretty much all of 1838. We call it the Patriot War.
And the rebel's admiral in that war was a man by the name of Pirate Bill Johnston... [continue reading this post from July 8, 2015]
This was a few years after Simcoe founded Toronto. He'd come back home to England by then, returning to his country in a deeply troubled time. England was at war with France... [continue reading this post from August 3, 2015]
Their war was driven by a fashion trend. Far on the other side of the Atlantic, in the cobblestone capitals of Europe, hats made of beaver felt were all the rage. The demand had already driven European beavers to the brink of extinction. Now, the furriers turned to the Americas to feed their ravenous sartorial appetite. The competition over the slaughter of the large, aquatic rodents plunged the Great Lakes into more than a century of bloodshed and violence. By the end of the 1600s, a series of conflicts had been raging for decades on end. Thousands of warriors fought bloody battles over control of the fur trade. They called them the Beaver Wars.... [continue reading this post from December 16, 2015]