Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Trip to the Scarborough Bluffs

I spent my Victoria Day out in Scarborough, walking along the bluffs. It was the first time I'd really taken the time to explore out there (I'd been to one outlook a few years ago, but that's all). And, as you might expect, it turns out that the Scarborough Bluffs are totally spectacular — the whole day felt like I was alone in a world a long long way from the biggest city in Canada.

My walk took me along the base of the bluffs on the curently-under-construction Doris McCarthy trail (named after the Torontonian artist who studied with the Group of 7's Arthur Lismer) before I headed up to catch the spectacular views from Cathedral Bluffs Park and back down to finish my day on the beach at Bluffer's Park just in time for some fireworks.

I've posted all of my Instagram photos from the day on Facebook. You can check them out here. And, as always, you can follow me on Instagram at @todreamsproject.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fishing the Don in the early 1920s

It's a Saturday in the Don Valley in the early 1920s. These boys have brought their dog along to go fishing at Riverdale Park (they're probably on the east side of the river according to the caption, with the photo looking south toward the footbridge).

People have been fishing in the Don for thousands and thousands of years, of course — and you can still do it today. There are salmon and pike and carp and plenty of other species in the river, despite the pollution that flows into it (most notably from rain and snowmelt washing our pesticides, road salt, fertilizer and other crap into the water). And unless you're a kid or pregnant, you can safely eat the fish you catch — at least, in limited quantities: the City says about four times a month.

This is a detail of a larger photo I came across on the Toronto Public Library website here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Railway By The Brickworks in the early 1920s

In this photo we're looking north up the Don Valley, not too far north from Bloor. It's the early 1920s. Those are the smoke stacks of the Don Valley Brick Works on the left-hand side of the photo and this is the railway that still runs along the eastern edge of the property today. The bridge is called the half-mile bridge (although it's actually shorter than that) — and it's a slightly earlier version of the bridge that's still there today. The current one was built in 1928. And, amazingly, they rebuilt the whole thing without shutting down service at all. The new sections were slipped in during the time between trains.

The whole line was originally laid down in the late-1800s as part of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It opened up the first CPR route directly into downtown Toronto. Before that, they had to go all the way west to the Junction and then literally reverse their way into the heart of the city.

The line was finally decommissioned in 2007. Today, it's unused and overgrown:

Torontoist has a post all about walking down the length of the line here.

Top photo comes via Mike Filey on the Toronto Railway Historical Association website here.

And the bottom photo comes via my own Instagram account, which you should be following if you aren't already: @TODreamsProject.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Story Behind the Sakura Blossoms of High Park

The tradition was born in Japan more than a thousand years ago. People of the Imperial Court started hanging out under cherry trees every spring, taking advantage of the brief period when the blossoms burst into spectacular bloom. From there, the tradition spread to samurai culture and eventually all sorts of people in Japan were doing it. Today, the whole country keeps a close eye on "the cherry blossom front" as warm weather arrives in the south and then sweeps north across the islands. During the week or two when the flowers are open, millions of people all over Japan have picnics under the trees, take photos, get drunk, fall in love. They call it Sakura Hanami.

The tradition came to Toronto in 1959. That year, the Japanese ambassador gave us two thousand Sakura trees — a gift from the people of Tokyo to the people of Toronto. It was a thank you for welcoming so many Japanese-Canadians to the city in the wake of the Second World War.

By then, the Canadian government had a long history of official racism against Japanese immigrants. And it had only gotten worse during the war. Mackenzie King's Liberal government used the War Measures Act to brand anyone of Japanese descent as an enemy alien. In British Columbia, tens of thousands of Japanese-Canadians were rounded up and shipped off to internment camps. They called it an "evacuation".

It didn't end there. After the war, the government deported thousands of people "back" to war-ravaged Japan — even though half of them had been born in Canada. Those who weren't deported were forced to move away from the West Coast. As one racist asshole of a cabinet minister put it: "No Japs from the Rockies to the seas."

Many of them came east to Toronto. And here, they found plenty of racism too. During the war, Toronto's mayors were openly hostile to the new arrivals. The City refused to give any licenses to any Japanese-Canadian businesses. On their way into town, some new Torontonians decided it was best to avoid Union Station — for fear that anti-Japanese hysteria could turn the crowds ugly.

But there were also plenty of Canadians who were horrified by the government's racist policies. In Toronto, the Cooperative Committee on Japanese Canadians pulled together progressive organizations from all over the country in a public campaign against the government's bigotry. There were petitions, pamphlets, public meetings, sermons, fundraisers, letters to MPs, briefs to parliament, and court cases. The reaction from Canadians was overwhelmingly supportive. It took years, but eventually the government was forced to back down. In 1947, they abandoned the deportation policy. In 1949, Japanese-Canadians were allowed to move back to B.C. — and, finally, to vote.

Ten years later, those two thousand Sakura trees were planted in Toronto as a way to remember — and since then, the Japanese government has continued to give them to us as gifts. They bloom all over the GTA and the Golden Horseshoe. You can find them at York University, at U of T, at McMaster, at Exhibition Place, in the Royal Botanical Gardens of Hamilton and Burlington, at Niagara Falls...

But most famously, you can find them in High Park. A hundred trees were planted there in 1959 — on the hillside overlooking the eastern bank of Grenadier Pond. And since then, dozens more have been added. Today, during those brief spring days when the trees burst into pink and white, thousands of Torontonians get to enjoy our own Sakura Hanami, in awe of the beauty we've been given from Japan.

The planting of those trees was, of course, far from the end of anti-Japanese racism in Toronto. At the time those first Sakura were planted, there were still no new Japanese immigrants allowed into the country. There wouldn't be any more welcomed as new Canadians until 1967. But Torontonians continued to play an important role in the fight to make the government acknowledge what had happened — spearheaded by the efforts of Japanese-Canadian organizations founded in T.O. and backed by an unanimous motion from City Council. Finally, in 1988, the government of Canada formally apologized, compensated the survivors and cleared the names of those who had refused to be sent away. That very same year, the War Measures Act was repealed and replaced so that no Canadian can ever be legally rounded up on the basis of race ever again.

The Sakura of High Park are in bloom right now, but not for long. You can get updates from the High Park website here or by liking the blossoms on Facebook here.


There's a famous Japanese short story about the Sakura — about someone who doesn't understand their beauty until he realizes the roots feed on the death and decay of previous generations. "There are bodies buried beneath the cherry trees!" he says. I'm keeping that line in mind as I visit the blossoms this year. There are plenty of metaphorical bodies buried beneath our Sakura too. But as you wander among the trees along with joyful throngs of Torontonians and tourists — with backgrounds from all over the world  — it's easy to see the beauty. It's not only in the trees.

Wikipedia has more on the history of cherry blossoms here. There's more on the Cooperative Committee on Japanese Canadians from the McMaster University Libraries here. There's a timeline of Japanese-Canadian history here. There's a CBC report about the apology and compensation on YouTube here. There's a short and very informative book about the uprooting of Japanese-Canadians in a PDF here.

Not everyone in Japan loves Hanami. The Japan Times has a great article about a bit of a backlash here

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lee's Palace Before It Was Lee's Palace

So that's what Lee's Palace looked like when it first opened, nearly 100 years ago. It was the spring of 1919 — the first few months after the end of the First World War. It was a silent movie theatre back then, the Allen's Bloor Theatre, part of one of Canada's very earliest cinema chains. The Allen brothers had started with one "theatorium" in Brantford and spread all over the country — they had a whole string of theatres in Toronto, including one on the Danforth which we now call the Danforth Music Hall.

The same guy designed all of the Allen cinemas in T.O.: theatre architect C. Howard Crane, who was about to become one of Detroit's greatest architects during that city's golden age. He designed some of Motown's most famous buildings during those booming years of the 1920s, when the city was being built in Art Deco splendour thanks to the dawn of automobile. He's responsible for the Fox Theatre, the Opera House, the Orchestra Hall, the Fillmore, the United Artists Theatre, the old Red Wings stadium... The list goes on. Plus other masterpieces in places like Columbus (the LeVeque Tower) and St. Louis (another Fox Theatre) and London (Earls Court).

The Allen's Theatre chain would eventually be swallowed up by the Famous Players monopoly (who also owned the cinema across the street, which we now call the Bloor). It would carry on as a movie threatre until the 1950s before it was finally shut down. For the next three decades, it would be home to a series of nightclubs and restaurants — including the burlesque show of the Blue Orchid — and, according to the Lee's website, at one point a bank.

It was in 1985 that it finally became the Lee's Palace that we know today. The first two acts were Handsome Ned and Blue Rodeo. Since then, it's played host to some of the most awesome bands from Toronto and around the world — including the first local appearances by Nirvana, Blur, Oasis and the Smashing Pumpkins.

Oh and Sex Bomb-omb. Lee's Palace is where Scott Pilgrim defeated the third of the Evil Exes.

Allen's Bloor Theatre, 1921

Allen's Bloor Theatre, 1919

A bunch of this info comes via Silent Toronto, which has plenty more about the Allen's Bloor Theatre and Toronto's cinematic history here.

Another one of the surviving Allen's Theatres is on the west end of Parkdale, now home to the Queen West Antique Centre.