Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Tour of Toronto's Skyline in the Summer of 1930

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.

But first, you’ll want to open the full version of the image so you can see the whole thing, which you can do by clicking it here:

01 The Maclean Building
By 1930, the Maclean family's publishing empire was already more than four decades old. It had all started back in the 1880s with a trade journal called The Canadian Grocer. Before long, they'd added Maclean's, Chatelaine and The Financial Post among other titles. They were the biggest publishing empire in the British Empire. And that meant they could afford to buy an entire block of land in downtown Toronto. On the north-east corner of University & Dundas, they built a whole complex to house their offices and printing presses. In 1930, the latest addition had just opened: the new Maclean Building soared a whole nine storeys into the air, making it the tallest building in the neighbourhood. That's when a photographer climbed up onto the roof and snapped this photo of Toronto's skyline.

Today, the building is still there. It's on the north side of Dundas, just to the east of the intersection. On the corner itself, you'll find a TD on the ground floor of the newer Maclean-Hunter Building; it was built in the early 1960s.

02 Eaton's
Of course, the Macleans weren't the only Toronto family to build a wildly successful business. At about the same time the first edition of The Canadian Grocer was hot off the presses, Timothy Eaton was moving his famous department store to the corner of Yonge & Queen. Over the next few decades, as Eaton's became a Canadian institution, the company bought up whole blocks of the surrounding neighbourhood. By the time this photo of the skyline was taken, they owned pretty much everything between Yonge, Bay, Queen & Dundas. In 1930, their complex sprawled over more than 60 acres: there was the main store, an annex store, factories, warehouses and mail order facilities. Today, that same huge chunk of land is home to the Eaton Centre.

03 The Ward
Today, this is where you'll find Nathan Phillips Square. But in 1930, the same spot was home to Toronto's most notorious slum. What is now an open expanse of concrete was a warren of hovels back then, where slumlords crammed people into tiny, poorly-insulated shacks. The Ward had been home to one new wave of immigrants after another — stretching all the way back to the mid-1800s — and by the time this photo of the skyline was taken, it had become Toronto's first Chinatown. These were hard days for those new Canadians: anti-Asian racism was rampant; the federal government had recently banned all immigration from China. The Great Depression would make things even worse.

By the summer of 1930, the days of The Ward were already numbered. Developers had begun to buy up parts of the neighbourhood to build office towers and hotels. Finally, in the late-1950s, the City expropriated the land, forced all the residents out, and demolished the buildings to make way for our new City Hall. Chinatown was driven west along Dundas to Spadina, where it is today.

04 Old City Hall
Back in 1930, Old City Hall was still known as just plain old City Hall. And Toronto's mayor was a newspaper reporter by the name of Bert Wemp. Just a few months earlier, he won the election by running against a plan to improve the downtown core. Huge swathes would have been rebuilt. There would have been grand boulevards slicing through the city centre, a majestic new square where Nathan Phillips Square is now, and a huge traffic circle near Union Station along with new Art Deco skyscrapers and public buildings. But after the stock market crashed, the public mood changed. And people in the suburbs had always felt the plan — which hoped to improve traffic congestion — did too much for downtown and too little for them. Wemp was elected. And in a referendum, the proposal was rejected by fewer than two thousand votes.

The Old City Hall building itself had already been around for thirty years by this point. It was designed by E.J. Lennox (the same architect responsible for Casa Loma, the King Edward Hotel and the west wing of Queen's Park). Until the Royal York Hotel was built in the very late 1920s, nothing in Toronto reached higher than the tip of this clock tower.

05 The Bank of Commerce Building
The Royal York didn't spend long as the tallest building in Toronto, though. In the summer of 1930, the title belonged to this new skyscraper. In fact, it was the tallest building in the entire British Empire. Today, we call it Commerce Court North, but back then it was called the Bank of Commerce Building. It was brand new — it opened the very same year the photo of the skyline was taken — and it was designed by the architectural firm of Darling & Pearson (who also built many of Toronto's other landmarks: like the original ROM, the AGO, and 1 King West). On the 32nd floor, it had the most spectacular observation deck in the city, decorated with four enormous, bearded heads. It would remain the tallest building in Toronto for the next three decades, until Ludwig Mies van der Rohe built the sleek black modernist towers of the Toronto-Dominion Centre in 1967.

06 The Royal York Hotel
In 1930, the Royal York was brand new, too, just a year old. Back then, it was the biggest hotel in the British Empire. It had ten elevators, the biggest pipe organ in the country, a shower and a bath and a radio in every single one of its 1000+ rooms, and a telephone system so extensive they needed three dozen operators to run it. In fact, the Royal York is so fancy that nearly a hundred years later, the Queen still stays there when she comes to town.

07 The Armouries
Once upon a time, this was one of the most impressive buildings in all of Toronto — in all of Canada even. The Armouries were built in the late 1800s as a training ground for the militia. It was the biggest building of its kind on the continent. It looked like a huge, squat castle, complete with turrets and flags. Inside, you'd find a rifle range, drill halls and even a bowling alley. This is where Torontonians lined up to volunteer for the Boer War, the World Wars and the Korean War. They were trained here, too. But in the early 1960s — about the same time The Ward was being leveled to make way for our new City Hall — the Armouries were demolished to make room for the new provincial courts that still stand on this same spot today.

08 The Goel Tzedec Synagogue
In 1930, The Ward was best known as Toronto's Chinatown. But thirty years earlier, it was most notably Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who called the neighbourhood home. It was back then — in the very early 1900s — that the local congregation opened this beautiful new synagogue on University Avenue (just a block to the north of the Armouries). Inspired by the design of England's Westminster Cathedral, this synagogue became the spiritual centre of Toronto's Jewish community. It stood on this spot for fifty years before it was demolished. By then, the community had moved west: the Goel Tzedec congregation merged with the worshipers of the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue on McCaul and opened the brand new Beth Tzedec Synagogue on Bathurst Street between St. Clair & Eglinton.

09 The Canada Life Building
Today, the Canada Life Building — topped by its familiar weather beacon — is one of our best-loved landmarks. But in the summer of 1930, it was still being built. The Beaux-Arts skyscraper would serve as the headquarters for Canada's biggest and oldest insurance company: Canada Life. (They still own the building, though they were recently swallowed up by Great-West Life.) It was supposed to be just the first in a whole complex of buildings along University Avenue, but the Great Depression forced them to cancel those plans. 

The helpful weather beacon (lights run up or down according to the changing temperature, flash red or white for rain or snow, steady red for clouds and green for clear skies) was added in the 1950s.

10 The Chestnut Trees of University Avenue
Today, University Avenue is a canyon of concrete, pavement and glass. But less than a hundred years ago, it was a majestic tree-lined boulevard. In the early 1800s, five hundred horse chestnut trees were planted along either side of the road and a grassy promenade was built down what is now the centre of the street. It became one of Toronto's grandest avenues. Even Charles Dickens was impressed when he came to town in the 1840s.

11 St. George The Martyr
Over here, in the west, you can see the towering spire of one of Toronto's oldest churches. St. George The Martyr had been built at the edge of what's now the Grange Park all the way back in the 1840s. The population was booming; Toronto's very first church — the Anglicans' St. James — just wasn't big enough anymore. When St. George was built, it became one of the most easily recognizable landmarks in the city. The spire stretched a hundred and fifty feet into the air. It could be seen all the way from the lake. Ships used it to navigate. But sadly, the church suffered a terrible fire in 1955. Most of the building — including the slender spire — was destroyed. Today, only the brick tower that supported the spire is left standing. And a new church, with new gardens, has been built on the same spot. 


I've got another tour of Toronto in the 1930s here.

The photo the skyline comes via Wikimedia Commons here.

You can see an aerial view looking north toward the Maclean Building thanks to Chuckman's postcard blog here. There's more about the history of the Maclean-Hunter company on Encyclopedia.com here. Kaitlin Wainwright shares a story about the man behind John Maclean's own impressive home here. And the City's own "Heritage Property Research and Evaluation Report" about the Maclean Building is in a PDF here. The photo of the building comes via Chris Bateman's blogTO article about a proposed condo development on the site.

Wikipedia has stuff on the Eaton's Annex here. And an image of the entire complex here. And a history of Eaton's here.

Chris Bateman has a brief history of The Ward over on blogTO here. And he lists "10 lost Toronto buildings we wish we could bring back" here.

Jamie Bradburn writes about Mayor Bert Wemp — who led quite a fascinating life — for Torontoist here. Wikipedia gives a much briefer rundown here. And a very quick overview of the 1930 municipal election here.

The Toronto Historical Associated has a bit more about the Armouries here. And so does Heritage Toronto here.

Kevin Plummer writes about one of the cantors of the Goel Tzedec Synagogue in an edition of Torontoist's Historicist column here. Wikipedia has a "History of the Jews in Toronto" here.

I wrote about the chestnut trees of University Avenue here.

You'll find a neat photo of John Street and St. George The Martyr in 1909 on Google Books here. And an even older painting of it — as part of a history of the nearby St. Patrick's Market on Queen Street — thanks to Doug Taylor here. The church's own website shares a history of itself here. The full photo of the church after the fire is on the Toronto Public Library website here. blogTO calls it one of the best make-out spots in Toronto.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dream 16 "The Bombing of Toronto" (Billy Bishop, 1941)

Billy Bishop dreamed that the first few people to spot them that night saw little more than dark splotches on the horizon. But soon they were clear to everyone: mammoth zeppelins floating in across the lake, soaring above the islands toward the sleeping city. As their shadows reached the shoreline, it began. Deep concussive thuds. Flashes of red and silver and green. Railway lines snapped in half. Buildings of stone and brick crumbled into the streets. Air raid sirens wailed.

With the blimps came small planes with four wings, crude wooden dragonflies buzzing along King Street, up Yonge, down Bay. Bullets sprayed across storefronts and streetcars. Fires raged. None other than the Red Baron himself shot up past Union Station, darted between the smouldering boulders of the collapsed Stock Exchange, and fixed his sights on City Hall.

By then, Billy Bishop had already scrambled into his cockpit and lifted his plane into the air. He might be an old man now, but he’d have one last chance to save the day. 


Billy Bishop was one of the most famous fighters pilots of the First World World. He shot down 72 German planes, more than nearly any other pilot in the world. The Canadian government forced him to retire before the end of the war, worried about what would happen to morale if he died. Bishop would be treated as a celebrity for the rest of his life, making public appearances on behalf of the military even during WWII.

You can true stories about Billy Bishop here. Explore more Toronto Dreams Project postcards here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Marcel Duchamp & John Cage Play Musical Chess

On a cold winter's night in 1968, a phone rang in an apartment on Spadina Road. The man who answered it was Lowell Cross, an American student at the University of Toronto. He'd come north to write his thesis on the history of electronic music, studying under Marshall McLuhan among others. Soon, he would become known as "the inventor of the laser light show," but he was already experimenting with new technologies — combining electronic music with electronic visuals. One of his multimedia projects had just been featured at Expo '67 in Montreal. He was gaining quite a reputation. That's why his phone was ringing. John Cage was calling.

Cage was the world's most notoriously experimental composer. Cross was a big fan — in fact, Cage featured prominently in his thesis. Now, the composer was calling to ask Cross for help: he needed someone to build a musical chessboard.

At first, Cross said no. He was just too busy; he had a thesis to write. But then Cage said two words that changed his mind:

"Marcel Duchamp."

Duchamp was one of the most famous and controversial artists of... well... ever. When he painted Nude Descending A Staircase (No. 2) as a young man in Paris, even the jury of a cubist exhibition his own brothers were helping to curate refused to show it. ("A nude never descends the stairs," they told him, "a nude reclines.") When the painting finally did appear in public, it was part of one of the most scandalous exhibitions ever: the Armory Show in New York City, which introduced America to modern art for the very first time. There were works by Picasso, Matisse, Manet and Cézanne. But Duchamp's Nude was the biggest attraction. Thousands of people showed up to get angry at it. The New York Times called it "an explosion in a shingle factory."

But lots of other people loved it. The Armory Show inspired New York City's first modern art scene. And before long, Duchamp was a part of it himself: when the First World War broke out, he fled the military patriotism sweeping France in favour of the United States, which was still neutral in those early days of the war.

In New York, Duchamp continued his attack on the old, conservative, academy-based art world. When one exhibition promised to display any artwork submitted to them, Duchamp sent them a urinal and called it Fountain. They refused to show it, but it was too late. Just the idea of it — the questions it raised about the definition of art and the artist and the gallery system — was a massive, giant, game-changing idea. A recent survey of five hundred art professionals found the urinal to be the most influential artwork of the twentieth century.

Duchamp wouldn't be in New York for long, though. When the U.S. joined the war, he moved on to another neutral country, heading south to Argentina. He'd spend the next few years living in Buenos Aires. And while he was there, something happened that would change his life forever:

Marcel Duchamp became obsessed with chess.

When he got back to Paris after the war, they say he wasn't even really a practicing artist anymore. Instead, he became an officially-recognized chess master. He wrote columns about the game. He played it so much his frustrated wife once glued his pieces to the board. Duchamp was only about 30, but for the rest of his entire life, until he died at the age of 81, chess would be his overwhelming passion. Not art.

"I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists," he announced.

John Cage, by comparison, kinda sucked at chess. But he was pretty good at composing experimental music. He came of age in the generation that followed Duchamp's — and he was deeply influenced by the French artist. "The effect for me of Duchamp's work," Cage once wrote, "was to so change my way of seeing that I became in my way a Duchamp unto myself."

There was, Cage said, "One way to study music: study Duchamp."

And so, inspired by the rebel artist, the young composer set about breaking down the walls of melody, tonality, scale and structure. He opened his music up to chance, using the I Ching and random luck to make decisions about what notes to place where. Duchamp used found objects; Cage used found sounds. His most famous piece, 4'33", was nothing more than four minutes and thirty-three seconds of a pianist not playing the piano, giving the audience a chance to listen to the ambient noise around them instead. When the piece premiered in 1952, even a crowd filled with fans of the avant-garde streamed out of the exits before it was over, muttering angrily. Forty years had passed since Duchamp's Nude, but not all that much had changed.

By then, Cage and Duchamp had already met. They'd been introduced by mutual friends and even worked together: Cage composed music for a film Duchamp helped make. But it wasn't until the 1960s that they became friends. As Duchamp grew older, his health began to fail him; Cage realized his time was running out. And so, he came up with an idea to turn his greatest influence into one of his closest friends:

He would ask Duchamp to teach him chess.

The plan worked. At least once a once week for the rest of his life, one of the most revolutionary artists of the twentieth century sat down at a chessboard across from one of the century's most revolutionary composers. And he beat him every single time. "Don't you ever play to win?" Duchamp complained, frustrated by his own dominance. But Cage was just happy to be hanging out with one of his heroes. Besides, the composer had an even bigger victory in mind.

Everyone assumed Duchamp was done with art forever — no one, not even Cage, realized he was secretly working on a piece to be revealed after his death. So Cage found a way to lure him into one final public appearance as an artist. He would turn their usual chess game into a work of art itself.

That's why he called Lowell Cross. Cage needed a chessboard that could turn the moves of the chess pieces into music. It would require the kind of innovative, interdisciplinary design that Cross was known for. Cage already knew about Cross' work; in fact, they'd already met — they'd both contributed to a recent event in New York City billed as the musical equivalent of the Armory Show. Cross was the perfect person to build the chessboard. And as busy as he was, there was no way he could say no to Cage and Duchamp.

Still, there wasn't much time. The big game was only a few weeks away. It would happen in Toronto. Ryerson was about to host something called the Sightsoundsystems Festival — a celebration of art and technology — and the showdown between Cage and Duchamp would be the headlining event, held on the opening night. They would call it Reunion, since the spectacle would bring together a whole team of groundbreaking composers who had worked together before. Cross scrambled to finish the board in time; it wasn't done until the night before the match.

The following afternoon, a wintry Tuesday, March 5, Marcel Duchamp arrived in Toronto. As he checked into his hotel (the Windsor Arms near Bay & Bloor), he was worried. He told a friend he had no clue why he was in Canada. Cage hadn't told him anything, just that they were going to do something at Ryerson that night.

Reunion (photo by Shigeko Kubota)
What he found when he arrived was a surreal scene. Two of the greatest artists of the twentieth century took their seats in the middle of the stage at the Ryerson Theatre, bathed in bright light and the gaze of the audience. Photographers circled around them, shutters snapping; a movie camera whirred. The stage was a mess of gadgets. There were wires everywhere; a tangle of them plugged right into side of the chessboard. A pair of TV screens was set up on either side of the stage. The Toronto Star called it "a cross between an electronic factory and a movie set."

Duchamp was an old man now; he was 80. "A grave, quiet figure in a dark blue suit," the Globe and Mail called him; "his skin had the transparent quality sometimes seen in those who are at once very old and very well preserved." In fact, he only had a few months left to live. But he still played with a quiet confidence in the midst of the electronic chaos, calmly smoking a cigar and drinking wine while he studied the board, his wife Teeny sitting at his elbow with a cigarette. Across from him, his younger opponent anxiously puffed away at the cigarette holder clutched between his fingers. "Cage looked nervous," the Star said, "like a man who knows he's going to lose."

They were, said the Globe, "like figures in a Beckett play, locked in some meaningless game. The audience, staring silently and sullenly at what was placed before it, was itself a character; and its role was as meaningless as the others. It was total non-communication, all around."

It was Duchamp who made the first move. And as the players began to play, so did the music. Cross had rigged each square in the board with a photoresistor — so that every time a chess piece moved to a new square, it blocked the light and sent a signal through the wires.

Those wires were hooked up to an elaborate sound system. There was a series of speakers spread out across the theatre, along with a team of experimental composers armed with strange instruments they'd either made or modified themselves. "Tuners, amplifiers and all manner of electronic gadgetry," according to the Star. As the composers coaxed bizarre noises out of their instruments, the moves on the chessboard decided which sounds were heard and which speakers played them. They were echoed on the TV screens, too, which flickered with scrambled, oscillating images. One of Cross' prerecorded compositions was also added to the mix.

As the game progressed and the positions of the pieces became more complex, so too did the music. The room filled with "screeches, buzzes, twitters and rasps." The peak of the racket didn't last for very long, though. Before the match had started, Duchamp had given Cage a handicap — removing one of his own white knights — but it didn't make much difference. One by one, Cage's black pieces were being removed from the board. And as the pieces disappeared, the music grew simpler in response.

Reunion (photo by Shigeko Kubota)
It was all over pretty quickly. Duchamp took less than half an hour to beat Cage. They didn't even have time to finish their bottle of wine.

A second game followed; this time Cage faced off against Teeny Duchamp. They were much more evenly matched, locked in battle for hours, their stalemate stretching long into the night. The audience gradually grew tired and bored; people trickled out into the cold. After a few hours, there were fewer than ten of them left. Even Duchamp dozed off. By one in the morning, the old artist had had enough. They agreed to call it a night.

Out in the audience someone shouted: "Encore!"

The reviews the next morning weren't much kinder than the initial reviews of Duchamp's Nude or Cage's 4'33". The Star called Reunion "infinitely boring... Among great cultural events of the decade, this wasn't one of the exciting ones..." The Globe agreed: "a case of the blind leading the blind."

But the reviews, of course, weren't the point. The artists had done what they set out to do, what they had both been doing since the very beginning of their careers: breaking down the walls between life and art. It was Lowell Cross who put it best. Reunion, he said, was "a public celebration of Cage's delight in living everyday life as an art form."

Duchamp passed away a few months later. Cage followed him a couple of decades after that. But the memory of their strange chess match lives on. Nearly half a century after the two icons of the avant-garde took to the stage at Ryerson, artists are still performing their work. A version of Reunion's musical chess match was part of the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2013. A year before that, a Chilean artist mounted his own version at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago. Another version was performed in Oslo that same year. And in 2010, during Toronto's Nuit Blanche, Reunion returned to the very same stage where Duchamp and Cage had battled with queens and knights and bishops — and squeals and buzzes and rasps — all those years ago.


The most invaluable source in all of this was Lowell Cross' own account of Reunion. You can read it in a PDF via JohnCage.org here.

You can also read the Star's reviews (if you have a Toronto Public Library card, I think?) here. And the Globe's here. The Globe's preview is here. And they have a scathing review of another event from the festival here. There's an ad for the festival here.

But William Littler — famous for his balanced reviews — did actually kind of get the point of the event in his review for his Star:

"There really are no objective value judgments to apply... [Cage] sees no valid distinction between art and life, between sounds suitable for making music and the sounds around us... From breaking the barriers between his art and life, the artist moves to the associated task of breaking the barriers between the various art forms... Reunion is a total affirmation, an environment which offers us sights and sounds which claim to be no more than they are... last night at Ryerson, one man's opinion was literally as good as another's."

There are more great photos of the chess match here and here.

I found lots of information about the chess match here and here and here and here and here and in French here. The CBC has a timeline of Cage's Canadian connections here.

Read more about 4'33" here and here. Or about Duchamp's Nude here. And the Armory Show here.

There's a brief biography of Lowell Cross here. And he's got lots of information on his own website, with the time of Reunion covered here.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

UK Tour Photos: The Blackdown Hills of Devon

There's a little piece of Canada in the middle of the English countryside. It's in the West Country, in Devonshire, in the Blackdown Hills. It's a land of magic and myth. Of fairies and pixies. Of warrior ghosts and witchcraft. Of Druids and Romans. Of poachers and smugglers. Of Iron Age hill forts, Bronze Age burial mounds and Stone Age earthworks. And this is where — more than 200 years ago — the founders of Toronto met and fell in love. The Simcoes grew old together here. This is where they're buried. They lie at rest with their children at Wolford Chapel, a small church they built on their estate looking out across these green hills. More than a century later, the land the chapel sits on was given to Ontario. It's officially part of Canadian territory. A Canadian flags flies outside.

I came to Devon to explore the Blackdown Hills as part of the Dreams Project's UK Tour last summer. I left dreams here for the Simcoes — and for Henry Scadding, who also grew up in these parts. I've already written a bit about it: a post about the ancient church where the Simcoes got married is here; there's a post about how they fell in love here.

But now I've finally posted a full gallery of my photos from my day wandering through the hills. You can check it out on Facebook right here:

And, as always, you can follow me on Instagram at @todreamsproject.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Torontonian Historical Map of London, England

Toronto has a deeper connection to London, England than it does to almost any other city in the world. After all, our entire country was essentially ruled from this place for more than a hundred years. Some of the most important moments in the history of our city happened in this city, nearly six thousand kilometers away. As you walk through the streets of Westminster, or Piccadilly, or Mayfair, you're likely to pass dozens of hidden connections to the history of Toronto without ever realizing they're there.

Lots of that history is found in the centre of the city — in the bits you can see in this photo. So I thought I'd explore some of the Toronto stories hidden in the streets of Central London: from the solider who founded our city, to the mayor who rebelled against it, to the moment when Canadian women were finally seen as people. Each number on the map comes with its own story, plus links to full posts about most of them, some other spots in Central London connected to those stories, and a link to find the exact locations on Google Maps. 

You might want to start by opening a bigger version of the photo here.  

01 SIMCOE'S HOUSE. We'll start up here in Marylebone — at 53 Welbeck Street — because this is where the guy who founded Toronto used to live. John Graves Simcoe rented this place in the very late 1700s, just after he got back from being the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. For the most part, he lived at his country estate in Devon, but he needed a place in London too. He spent a lot of time here, trying to convince the government to invest more money in the Canadian colony. He was sure the Americans were going to invade — which, of course, they soon did — and Toronto was still just a muddy little frontier town. Upper Canada was vulnerable. The new province, Simcoe argued, needed more soldiers, defenses and infrastructure.

The government ignored his pleas. But they did eventually give him a big promotion: Commander-in-chief of the British army in India. Sadly, Simcoe didn't live to see his first day on the job. War with Napoleon got in the way. On his trip to the front, Simcoe fell ill. He died soon after.

Find on Google Maps

+ The British Museum (big green roof about halfway between 08 and 09): Simcoe's wife Elizabeth kept a vital, detailed record of their trip to Canada: a diary, sketches and watercolours. Some of that work eventually ended up here, in the collection of the British Museum.

+ Cork Street (near 04): Elizabeth Simcoe's diary ends with a final line when they get back home to England: "Arrived at the hotel in Cork Street, London, at ten o'clock."

02 LADY ST. HELIER'S SALON. In the early 1900s, 52 Portland Place was the place to be. And that's because it was home to one of London's most influential aristocrats: Lady St. Helier. She was a Baroness, a writer, a philanthropist, even an alderman on the City Council. The guestlists at her parties featured some of the greatest writers and most important politicians in all of England: everyone from Oscar Wilde to Winston Churchill. She also changed Billy Bishop's life.

It was a strange coincidence that brought them together during the First World War. This was back before Bishop was a famous pilot; he was just another Canadian solider who had drunkenly fallen down the stairs of the Savoy Hotel on leave. He ended up in the same hospital where Lady St. Helier volunteered. And when she saw his name, she remembered meeting his father at a reception in Ottawa years earlier. She insisted that Bishop spend the rest of his time recovering at her own home, where they quickly became as close as family. When she learned that he wanted to become a pilot, it was Lady St. Helier who pulled the strings to make it happen. And by the end of Bishop’s first week in the cockpit, he'd already shot down five German planes and earned the title of "ace".

READ MORE: "Billy Bishop & The Rich & Famous"

Find on Google Maps

+ Lady Carnarvon's Hospital for Officers (on Bryanston Square, just to the left of the photo): The hospital where Bishop met the Baroness is still there today. It's a prep school now. It was run by the woman who owned the mansion we call "Downton Abbey". In fact, her hospital inspired the hospital storyline on the show.  

03 THE CHURCH OF THE ASSUMPTION. William Kurelek was one of the most popular artists in Canadian history. His paintings of snowball fights, lumberjacks and Prairie fields hang in the National Gallery, the Parliament Buildings, the AGO, and on kitchen walls all across our country. But he was also deeply depressed, haunted by nightmares and visions. So, after he graduated from art school in Toronto, he headed across the ocean to check himself into a cutting-edge psychiatric hospital in London. During his years in England, Kurelek painted some of his most striking and disturbing images, suffered through a series of electroshock treatments, attempted suicide, and eventually found God, becoming a devout Catholic.

This spot, just around the corner from Carnaby Street, is where he started to hang out. He joined a Catholic social club here at the Church of the Assumption. He said it helped him to become "a happier, more glad-to-be-living sort of person." When he returned home to Toronto, religious themes became one of the most important parts of his work; while he was living in the Annex, he even created a series of 160 paintings depicting the Passion of Christ. But his nightmare visions never left him. Kurelek spent the rest of his life expecting a nuclear holocaust to begin at any moment, heralding the arrival of a Biblical apocalypse.

READ MORE: "An Apocalypse in the Beaches — The Nightmare Visions of William Kurelek"

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+ Blue Ball Yard (a few doors below 05): Kurelek got a job here, making picture frames. The experience would help him back in Toronto: getting another framing gig to support himself and making the frames for his own paintings himself. You can check out a bunch of them at the AGO.  

04 THE CANADIAN WAR RECORDS OFFICE. 14 Clifford Street is an important address in the history of Canadian art. During the terrible days of the First World War, this is where you would have found the headquarters of the Canadian War Records Office. The organization had been founded and financed by Lord Beaverbrook — a Canadian newspaper baron turned British politician — to record the Canadian experience of the war. Artists and writers were pulled out of the trenches and given paintbrushes and pens instead of guns and ammunition. Some of our country's most famous artists were hired as part of the project: authors like Wyndham Lewis and Charles G.D. Roberts, sculptors like Frances Loring and Florence Wyle, painters like the Group of Seven's A.Y. Jackson, Fred Varley and Arthur Lismer.

In fact, this was back before the Group of Seven were even calling themselves the Group of Seven. And their work for the War Records Office helped turn them into stars. In Canada, they were being dismissed as "The Hot Mush School." Critics called their work "a horrible bunch of junk" and "daubing by immature children." But when the war ended, their work was exhibited at Burlington House — on Piccadilly Road just a couple of blocks south of the War Records Office. The English critics loved them, helping to lend them more than a little bit of credibility when they headed back home to Toronto. Soon, they were being hailed as the greatest artists our country has ever produced.

READ MORE: "How England Helped Save The Group of Seven"

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05 THE RITZ. Just a few doors down Piccadilly Road from the spot where the Group of Seven's war paintings once hung on the walls, stands one of the most famous five-star hotels in the entire world. This is the Ritz. And in 1920, just a few months after the War Records exhibition, one of the most famous Torontonians of all-time was staying here. Mary Pickford was on her honeymoon. And it was causing riots.

Pickford had been born on University Avenue (where Sick Kids is now) and started her career as a young girl on stage at a theatre on King Street. But by the time 1920 rolled around, she'd become one of the most famous icons in Hollywood history. And she'd just married another one: Douglas Fairbanks. London was the first stop on their honeymoon. The English public, starved for good news after the horrors of the war, went crazy for them. Crowds packed the streets for miles in every direction around the hotel. Even the King himself couldn't get through. Every time Pickford and Fairbanks stepped outside or tried to go anywhere else, the newly-wed couple risked getting crushed to death. No one had ever seen anything like it. Some say that trip to London marked the very beginning of modern celebrity culture.

READ MORE: "Mary Pickford's Nightmare Honeymoon"

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+ Waterloo Station (the big silver thing in the bottom-right corner): The first sign of trouble came when their train arrived in London. Huge crowds gathered to greet the couple and their carriage could barely push through the excited fans. 

+ The Alhambra Theatre (on Leicester Square, a block to the left of 12): When Pickford and Fairbanks came to see a play here, the crowds made them late. When they finally did arrive, the performance was interrupted by a ten-minute standing ovation for the couple. Fairbanks was forced to give a speech from their seats in the Royal Box before the play was allowed to continue.

06 THE BRITISH ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION HEADQUARTERS. In 1909, one of the most famous explorers in all of British history opened an office here on Victoria Street. Sir Robert Falcon Scott was planning an expedition to Antarctica; if all went to plan, he would become the very first person to ever reach the South Pole. And he was looking for a few good men willing to join him on his adventure. One of the hopeful candidates was Charles Seymour Wright. He'd grown up in Toronto and was now studying physics at Cambridge. When Scott rejected his initial application, Wright refused to take no for an answer. So he walked all the way here to Scott's office. From Cambridge. A hundred kilometers away. Scott was so impressed that he changed his mind and hired the young Canadian. When Scott's ship sailed south, Wright was on board. And he wasn't the only Torontonian, either: Thomas Griffith Taylor was an Australian who would eventually go on to found the Geography Department at U of T.

But the expedition proved to be a disaster. Scott and a few men made it all the way to the Pole only to discover they'd been beaten there by a team of Norwegians. On their long march back to camp, all the men in the polar party died. It was Wright who found the bodies —  along with the dead men's diaries, full of the chilling details that helped to cement the expedition as the most iconic tale from the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

READ MORE: "Toronto's First Great Antarctic Explorer"

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+ Waterloo Place (right near 08): There's a statue of Scott here, in the shadow of the Duke of York Column.

+ The Natural History Museum (a couple of km to the left of the photo): On the way back from the South Pole, the doomed men stopped to collect rock samples. They still had them with them when Wright found the bodies. Today, you can see some of those rocks on display at the Natural History Museum. 

07 THE WESTMINSTER PALACE HOTEL. It was on this spot, right across the street from Westminster Abbey, that the Westminster Palace Hotel once stood. It was one of the grandest hotels in all of London — the very first, in fact, to have an elevator. And it was here, in a big room on the main floor, that one of the most important events in Canadian history happened. In 1866, delegates from all over the Canadian colonies met here to hash out the final details of Confederation. It was in this hotel that they drafted a bill the British parliament would eventually approve, turning Canada into a country.

At night, the Fathers of Confederation would retire to sleep in their rooms upstairs. So that's where Sir John A. Macdonald was when he drunkenly fell asleep one night while reading the newspaper. He woke up in flames. His bed, his sheets, his curtains, his nightshirt were all on fire. He leaped to his feet and smothered the flames as Sir George Étienne-Cartier rushed to his rescue from the room next door. It was a close call; Macdonald was lucky to survive. And just eight months later, he officially became the first Prime Minister of Canada.

READ MORE: "Sir John A. Macdonald, Drunk and In Flames"

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+ The Athenaeum Club (just above 08): Sir John A. was an honourary member of the Athenaeum, one of the most exclusive gentlemen's clubs in the world. Other members have included everyone from Darwin to Dickens to Churchill. 

+ Bond Street (runs along the left of 04): The fire and Confederation weren't the only life-changing events on Macdonald's trip. One day while walking down the street, he ran into an old friend from Canada. Within weeks, Macdonald and Susan Agnes Bernard were engaged to be married.

+ St. George's, Hanover Square (just above 04): The wedding happened here, at one of the most prestigious churches in London. Twenty years later, Teddy Roosevelt would also tie the knot at St. George's. And the church even pops up in My Fair Lady.

08 THE DUKE OF YORK COLUMN. In the aerial photograph above, it looks like nothing more than a thin brown line, just to the right of the number 08. But from the ground, it's massive. The column soars 12 storeys into the air. The statue on top weighs more than 16,000 pounds. It was built in the early 1800s to honour a prince born just down the street at St. James' Palace — the son of "Mad" King George III. In the days of the wars against Napoleon, the prince was in charge of the entire British military. Mostly, he's remembered for being inept and for the time he got mixed up in one of the most notorious sex scandals in British history. But in the end, his name was cleared and every single soldier in the British army gave up one day's pay to build him this column right in the middle of London.

His name was Prince Frederick. But he was better-known as the Duke of York. And when he won a big victory against the French in the late 1700s, the news spread all the way across the ocean and up the St. Lawrence to the brand new province of Upper Canada. Eventually, it reached the northern shore of Lake Ontario, where the Lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe, had just founded a muddy little frontier town to serve as his capital. To honour the Duke's big victory, Simcoe gave his town a new name: York. Two hundred years later, the name of that prince is still plastered all over Toronto: from York to North York to East York to Fort York to York Street to York University to York Mills to the York Club to Royal York Road.

READ MORE: "The Guy Toronto Was Originally Named After — And His Super-Big Sex Scandal"

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09 A.Y. JACKSON'S STUDIO. The Group of Seven's most famous studio is in Toronto: in the Rosedale Valley, just a few blocks from Yonge & Bloor. That's where A.Y. Jackson shared a space on the top floor of the Studio Building with Tom Thomson, becoming fast friends in the days before the Group of Seven became famous. But when the First World War broke out, Jackson volunteered, heading to the blood-soaked trenches outside Ypres. The war took a terrible toll on the painter. When he ran into a fellow member of the Group, Fred Varley, his friend was deeply worried about him. "I’m sure if he had to go through the fight any more," Varley wrote in a letter back home, "he would be broken." And things were only getting worse: Jackson was wounded during a German bombardment, received word from back home that Thomson had died mysteriously in Algonquin Park, and his unit was headed toward mutiny and the slaughterhouse of the Battle of the Somme.

Jackson was saved at the best possible moment: while digging a latrine as he recovered from his wounds. An officer came to tell him that the Canadian War Records Office was looking for artists. They wanted Jackson to come work for them. He spent the rest of his war traveling across the Western Front sketching the devastation and then returning here, to his studio on Charlotte Street, to turn them into full paintings. No artist produced more work for the Canadian War Records Office than Jackson did. And his paintings for them helped to establish his reputation as one of the most promising artists in Toronto.

READ MORE: "A.Y. Jackson Goes to War — The Group of Seven on the Western Front"

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10 THE REBEL MAYOR. Just a couple of years before he became the first Mayor of Toronto, William Lyon Mackenzie was living right near here — on Wakefield Street. He was in London to find a peaceful solution to the political crisis sweeping Upper Canada. Back home in Toronto, he was desperately fighting to pass democratic reforms. But the Tories of the Family Compact were opposing him at every turn: they threw him out of his seat in the legislature, burned him in effigy, attacked his home and business, beat him half to death in the street. Still, he was hopeful; he was sure the British government would to listen to reason. So in 1832, Mackenzie came to London to formally present a long list of grievances on behalf of Upper Canadians. He spent a year living here with his family, presenting petitions to the Colonial Office and staying up all night writing lists of his complaints. He even taught himself to write with both hands so he could switch from one to the other when he started getting tired.

But none of it worked. In the end, the British did ignore his complaints. And when Mackenzie returned home to Toronto, he was more radical than ever.

READ MORE: "William Lyon Mackenzie's Mission to London"

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11. THE CROWN & ANCHOR TAVERN. While Mackenzie was in London, England was seized by its own battle over democratic rights. And over here on the Strand, you could find one of the hotbeds for radical politics: the Crown & Anchor Tavern. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, some of the biggest names in Britain came here to drink and to argue, to hold meetings and to give lectures: people like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Samuel Johnson, and William Hazlitt. Hundreds — sometimes even thousands — of Radicals and Reformers would gather here, listening to speakers, holding meetings, or throwing a party when someone was finally released from jail. They even printed some of the very same radical texts Mackenzie was printing in his newspaper back home in Toronto. The Crown & Anchor became synonymous with the campaign for democratic reform.

But there was lots of space at the tavern. Not everyone who held a meeting here was a radical. Far from it. And in the very late 1700s, the tavern was home to a series of meetings by the most famous secret organization in the world: The Freemasons.

In 1792, they met here to make an important decision. The British had just created a new province in Canada, which meant a new branch of the Masonic Lodge and a new Provincial Grand Master to run it. To fill the post, they picked an American who'd been driven out of the United States for fighting on the British side of the American Revolution. He was one of Simcoe's men. Soon, he would be joining his old commander on the trip to Upper Canada. His family would become one of the founding families of Toronto. And in time, as leading members of the conservative Family Compact, they became Mackenzie's arch-rivals. Two hundred years later, people in Toronto still recognize the family name: the man's name was William Jarvis.

READ MORE: "The Jarvis Family: 60 Years Fighting Revolutionaries and Radicals — And How It All Backfired"

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St. George's, Hanover Square (just above 04): William and Mary Jarvis got married here while they were in London: at the very same church where Sir John A. Macdonald would get married decades later.

12. THE RADICAL TAILOR OF CHARING CROSS. One of the most influential Radicals in England was a man by the name of Francis Place. He was a tailor by trade, with a shop here at 16 Charing Cross, just around the bend from Trafalgar Square. His backroom had been turned into a library filled with revolutionary ideas. The shop was ground zero for radical politics in England, where politicians and protesters alike came to discuss the ideas they were fighting for. And while Mackenzie was living in London, he too was invited into the backroom here, exposed to some of the most revolutionary ideas in England.

This was a very dangerous time. During Mackenzie's year in London, he watched the battle over a bill called the Great Reform Act plunge England into crisis. At the height of the fight, shops and factories shut down. Political unions mobilized. Huge crowds gathered in protest. There were riots. Mackenzie himself saw the Tory Prime Minster — the Duke of Wellington, the hero of the Battle of Waterloo — pelted with fish heads and mud in the street. Francis Place was one of the leaders of the unrest: his angry posters were plastered all over London; he organized a run on the banks that threatened to bankrupt the nation. And he was willing to go even further than that: if the Tories didn't back down and allow democratic reform, Place would have no problem helping to lead an armed revolution.

In the end, the bill did pass. Mackenzie was there that day in the House of Lords to watch it happen. But the British government refused to bring similar reforms to Upper Canada. And when Mackenzie returned home to Toronto, not only had he lost his faith in the British system, he'd also been exposed to some pretty radical and violent ideas. Within a few short years, he'd be leading his own army down Yonge Street, trying to overthrow British rule in Canada.

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13 WESTMINSTER BRIDGE. The Victorian age officially began a little after noon on a Thursday: June the 28th, 1838. That's when the Imperial Crown was placed upon the young queen's head. And at that exact moment, one of the most fascinating scientists in the history of Toronto was standing right here: in the middle of the old Westminster Bridge.

Sir John Henry Lefroy was just a young solider back then — tasked with passing the signal along from Westminster Abbey to the crowds at the Tower of London when the big moment arrived — but he had a long and interesting life ahead of him. His scientific curiosity would eventually bring him to Canada, where he was in charge of Her Majesty's Magnetical and Meteorological Observatory at Toronto. It was part of an Empire-wide project to figure out why the magnetic field kept changing. And while he was here, Lefroy left a lasting legacy in Toronto. He co-founded the Royal Canadian Institute. And thanks to a famous trip to the Northwest Territories, he became the subject of what is now the most expensive painting in Canadian history: Paul Kane's Scene in the Northwest: Portrait of John Henry Lefroy. More than 175 years after he stood on the Westminster Bridge at the dawn of a new age, you can now find Lefroy on the walls of the AGO.

READ MORE: "Sir John Henry Lefroy & Queen Victoria's Coronation"

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+ Cambridge Terrace (right side of the big park at the top of the photo): After getting back to England, Lefroy became a major figure in the administration of the Empire, including Governor of Bermuda and Director of Ordnance for the army. He lived here, in the swanky Cambridge Terrace, looking out over Regents Park.

+ St. Martin-in-the-Fields (on Trafalgar Square, the big square to the bottom-left of 12): As a baby, Lefroy was baptized here, in this church, by the Bishop of London.

St. George's, Hanover Square (just above 04): Lefroy also got married here, just like Sir John A. Macdonald and William Jarvis did.

+ The Egyptian Hall (on Piccadilly Road, a couple of blocks below 04): One of the most important moments of Paul Kane's life happened here, too. The young artist from Toronto saw a lecture at the Egyptian Hall by the American painter George Caitlin. Caitlin had dedicated his life to painting the people of the First Nations (sometimes very inaccurately). Kane was so inspired, he decided to do the same thing in Canada. 

14 THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH. It was a guy from Toronto who created Doctor Who. Sydney Newman worked at the NFB and the CBC before eventually landing a gig in England as Head of Drama for the BBC. He'd been a big science-fiction fan growing up in Toronto, so one of the first things he did at his new job was to assemble a groundbreaking team — including the first woman producer in BBC history, as well as the first Indian-born director — to make a new show about a strange old man who travelled through time and space in a police box. It would prove to be one of the most successful television programs of all-time.

 And that was in large part thanks to the Daleks. The genocidal aliens — giant salt-shakers armed with toilet plungers — were featured in the second story Doctor Who ever told. And they were a smash hit. At first, Newman wasn't pleased. He wanted the show to be educational. He didn't want any "bug-eyed monsters." But he quickly changed his tune. In the second season of the show, the Daleks were back in a serial that included one of the most iconic moments in British television history: the invading aliens rolled across Westminster Bridge during the Dalek invasion of Earth.

READ MORE: "The Torontonian roots of Doctor Who — The Canadian Behind the Legendary TV Show"

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+ BBC Broadcasting House (to the bottom-left of 02): The old BBC headquarters, where Newman used to work, are way off to the left of this photo. But the brand new headquarters are on Regent Street where, more than 50 years later, they still boast Doctor Who as one of the most popular parts of their schedule. 

15 The Colonial Office. We end here, in Whitehall, just down the street from the Houses of Parliament. Because once upon a time, this building was the very heart of the British Empire. Today, they call it the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, but it used to be known as the Colonial Office. For more than a century, this is the spot where Canada was essentially ruled from. As a result, some of the most important moments in Canadian history happened right here. Many of the most powerful and important Canadians have sailed all the way across the Atlantic to come to this spot: all in the hope of getting a meeting with the British bureaucrats who ran this place. They waited long hours in reception, presented petitions, negotiated with our imperial overlords... sometimes they were turned away altogether. Some of them had names that are still familiar to Canadians today: Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir George-Étienne Cartier, William Lyon Mackenzie, Sir Sandford Fleming, Robert Baldwin...

But maybe most important of all, this is where the Privy Council used to meet. And even though they were all British judges, they served as the court with the highest authority over Canadian law. Higher even than the Supreme Court of Canada. So it was in this building in 1929 that the British judges on the Privy Council overruled the Canadian courts: they declared that women are, in fact, persons. To this day, it's one of the most famous and important moments in the history of our country — even if it happened six thousand kilometers away.

READ MORE: "Three Dreams in the Heart of the British Empire"

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Read more posts about The Toronto Dreams Project's UK Tour and the connections between the history of Toronto and the United Kingdom here

 The original photo was taken by Wikimedia Commons user Stevekeiretsu in 2006. You can find it here. I've cropped it and adjusted the contrast and colour balance.