Thursday, May 22, 2014

Shit You Should See At Doors Open 2014

This weekend is Doors Open weekend in Toronto. More than 150 sites across the city will be welcoming visitors into the some of the most interesting, beautiful and historic buildings that Toronto has to offer. And since there's no way one person can manage to catch all of the cool stuff, I thought I'd share five of my own picks for the some of the most amazing places you might want to check out.

If you'd like more information, you can visit the Doors Open website here. Jamie Bradburn also has a great list of some locations that are new to the event up on Torontoist here. And Derek Flack has his own picks for blogTO here.

I also expect to be out and about at some point this weekend, armed with some of my Toronto Dreams Project dreams, leaving them in historic spots around the city — including some that are part of Doors Open. You can follow me on Twitter and on Instagram (@TODreamsProject) to find out when and where I do.


THE GIBRALTAR POINT LIGHTHOUSE

It's the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes, originally built all the way back in 1808, when Toronto was just a few years old. So it has been standing out there on the island for more than 200 years. And the history of the building is particularly interesting, including the mysterious disappearance of the first lightkeeper, John Paul Radelm├╝ller, who served as a porter to Prince Edward (the father of Queen Victoria and the guy PEI is named after) before he settled in York. They say he still haunts the lighthouse today, which fits with this year's Doors Open theme: Secrets and Spirits. Getting the chance to go inside is a rare privilege, so, while you'll have to make the trek out to the island and may have to line up when you get there, it should be well worth the trip. 

Oh, and I'm hoping to pop by with a copy or two of my dream for the lightkeeper's daughter, so that's a reason to visit, too.


THE STEREOSCOPIC PHOTO EXHIBIT

Seriously, how fucking cool is it that there are super-old 3D photos of Toronto? Thanks to the stereoscopic technique, all you need to do is cross your eyes and these archival pics of our city spring to life. And as part of the Contact Photography Festival, there's already an exhibition of them on display at Campbell House — that historic old building at Queen & University — which will also be welcoming visitors as part of Doors Open. It's bound to be one of the highlights of the weekend. And to give you a taste of just how neat it is, you can click on the photos to the left to make them bigger and give them a try. Just cross your eyes like you're looking at a Magic Eye. (Though it might be a bit easier if you then zoom out a little.)



ST. JAMES CATHEDRAL

As far as I'm concerned, St. James Cathedral should be a WAY bigger deal than it is. Not only is it one of the most spectacular buildings in Toronto, it's also one of the most important buildings in the entire history of Canada. The story of St. James stretches all the way back to a small wooden church built at what's now the corner of Church & King in the very early 1800s — and over the course of that century, it played a central role in the battle for democracy in Canada. This was the main church for most our city's leaders, including the preacher John Strachan, who was our city's first Anglican bishop, nemesis of William Lyon Mackenzie and a figurehead of the infamously anti-democratic Family Compact. Strachan is still there today, buried under the chancel. (I wrote the full story for Torontoist a while back; you can check it out here.) And while this probably won't be your last chance to visit the building — the cathedral has long been a Doors Open staple — it's always a good idea to seize the opportunity to venture inside one of the most underrated historic sites in Toronto.


THE NECROPOLIS

The Necropolis Cemetery in Cabbagetown is open (and free of charge, of course) all year round. But it's not easy finding all the coolest graves among the endless rows of headstones. So you might want to visit during this year's Doors Open, when they'll be offering free tours of the cemetery. This is where our rebel mayor William Lyon Mackenzie is buried. It's also home to the bones of Peter Matthews and Samuel Lount, martyrs of Mackenzie's rebellion. Then there's Thornton Blackburn, the escaped slave from Kentucky who established Toronto's first horse-drawn cab company and helped to bring more former slaves to Toronto on the Underground Railroad. He's resting near George Brown, founder of the Globe newspaper and Father of Confederation. And there's also Willam Petyon Hubbard, our city's first Black alderman, who once saved Brown from drowning in the Don River. The Necropolis is easily one of the most fascinating (and beautiful) cemeteries in our city. And since I've got dreams to leave at pretty much all of those graves, I'll probably be stopping by at some point this weekend to leave some postcards there. (Again, you can follow me on Twitter and on Instagram at @TODreamsProject to find out when and where I do.)


THE HIGH LEVEL WATER PUMPING STATION

Here's a new addition to the Doors Open roster. You'll find the High Level Pumping Station just a bit north-east of Davenport and Spadina. It's not far from some of the other Doors Open sites like the Toronto Archives and Spadina House. And like the much more famous R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant out in the east end, it takes Toronto's water infrastructure and transforms it into something beautiful. The old building also played a role in one of the most delightful episodes in the history of our city. Back in the 1960s, the residents of the surrounding neighbourhood declared independence from the rest of Canada. As the story goes, they wrote a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, elected a Queen, issued their own passports and sent an "air farce" of children holding a thousand helium balloons to surround the Pumping Station until their demands were met. To this day, the neighbourhood is known as the Republic of Rathnelly. They've even got their own custom street signs featuring their national crest.

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All photos by me, except, of course, for the stereoscopic ones.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Toronto's Second Union Station

When the first Union Station was built in 1858, there were about 40,000 people living in Toronto. By 1911, that many people were using the station every single day. By then we'd had to build a second, bigger Union Station. That's the one in the photo above, pictured here in 1873. It opened on Canada Day of that year, on the land just to the west of the current station (between York and Simcoe). As Wikipedia points out, "The main entrance and fa├žade faced the harbour rather than the city, underscoring the continued importance of boat travel on Lake Ontario." For 50 years, as the population of our metropolis boomed, it was one of the main points of arrival for new Torontonians. One of the exits was a bridge out of the station at the corner of Front & Simcoe. It became known as the Bridge of Sighs. One of Toronto's most important early photographers, William James, took many shots of new immigrants as they arrived. Kevin Plummer wrote about it for Torontoist here.

By the early 1900s, it was already clear that Toronto would need to build an even bigger train station. When the Great Fire of 1904 destroyed many of the neighbouring buildings, the Grand Trunk Railroad seize the opportunity to grab the land. Construction of a new building was delayed by the First World War — as well as the usual arguments — but the third Union Station finally opened in 1927. It's the one we're still using now. And in 2014, more than a quarter of a million people use it every day. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Glenn Gould's Groundbreaking Soviet Tour

It's Canadian Music Week this week (you can read all my show reviews over at The Little Red Umbrella), which seems like a particularly good time to share my column for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. And it just so happens that this week I told a big, Toronto-related story: Glenn Gould's groundbreaking tour of the Soviet Union, which kicked off during this week in 1957. It was the very first time a musician from North America had played in the USSR since the end of the Second World War — an extremely important moment not just in the history of Toronto, but in the history of Russia as well.

You can read all about it in my column for the Hall of Fame here.

You can also follow the Canadian Music Hall of Fame on Twitter and like it on Facebook to make sure you catch my future columns. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Toronto Historical Jukebox: "Honkin' At Midnight" by Frank Motley & His Motley Crew

MP3: "Honkin' At Midnight" by Frank Motley & His Motley Crew

1960s R&B from the Yonge Street strip

Frank Motley started off his career in the United States, learning to play the trumpet from jazz legend Dizzie Gillespie. And not only that: soon, he could play two trumpets at the same time. In the late 1950s, he headed north to Toronto, where he made a name for himself playing bluesy jazz and swinging R&B in downtown clubs like the Zanzibar and the Sapphire Tavern. That made him one of the pioneers of our city's very earliest rock scene, which would soon be shaking the Yonge Street strip to its foundations, earning Toronto a reputation as the hardest rocking city of its time.

"Honkin' At Midnight" may very well be Motley's greatest track, but it's far from his only memorable tune. His version of "Hound Dog" is at least as good as the version Elvis recorded — maybe even better. And when his next band — The Hitchhikers — backed singer and drag queen Jackie Shane at the Sapphire, the result was one of the best live albums Toronto has ever produced.

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This is a recent post from my Toronto Historical Jukebox blog. You can check out the rest of the songs I've written about here — or any time by clicking the Jukebox tab on the menu at the top of this blog.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Torontonian Behind Hair — Plus: The Greatest Canadian Song of All-Time

The end of April and the beginning of May make for a pretty interesting week when it comes to the history of music in our city. And so, there were a couple of Toronto-related events that made this week's edition of my column for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

First off: the anniversary of the Broadway debut of the musical Hair. It started its groundbreaking run during this week in 1968. It proved to be the most controversial musical ever — full of pacifism, nudity, swearing and drug use. Some people were so upset, they tried  to shut it down while it was on tour: including someone who bombed the theatre. The Toronto connection? The music — which included iconic 1960s tunes like "Good Morning Starshine", "Aquarius" and "Let The Sunshine In" — was written by Galt McDermot, who went to high school at our very own Upper Canada College. In fact, his dad was the principal.

The second event happened during this week in 1967 when Ian & Sylvia gave a big performance at Carnegie Hall in New York. They had started out as part of the Yorkville folk scene. Their biggest hit, "Four Strong Winds", was recently chosen as the greatest Canadian song of all-time by CBC listeners.

You can read both full stories in my column here.

You can also follow the Canadian Music Hall of Fame on Twitter and like it on Facebook to make sure you catch my future columns.
 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Muzik In The Days Before Ford

Music Day at the CNE, 1959 (via)

As you might have noticed, Muzik Nightclub has been in the news a lot recently. For one, they successfully lobbied the Board of Directors of the CNE to make a moronic decision: banning electronic dance music parties on the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto's latest bid to become the town from Footloose. It was an especially worrying decision given that Rob Ford is on the Board of Directors of the CNE and is also a familiar, drunken face at the club that wanted to ban their competition. The owner of Muzik argued that EDM parties encourage underage drug and alcohol abuse — a giant fucking fudge cake of irony now that the most recent drug scandal from our crack-smoking mess of a Mayor involves that very same club. Ford's recent appearances at Muzik have allegedly included snorting lines of coke, puking in the bathroom, and getting in an argument with Justin Bieber.

But Muzik hasn't always been Muzik. Until recently, it was the CNE's Horticulture Building. It was built all the way back in 1907 — with an iconic glass dome — as a showcase for "agricultural, horticultural and floricultural displays." I came across a couple of photos of the building back in 2012, when I was digging through archives for photographs to leave at the Ex as part of the Toronto Dreams Project's Department of Photographic Hauntings. So I thought I'd take the chance now to share them on the blog.

The building also has a tragic connection to the worst disaster in Toronto's history. In 1949, the S.S. Noronic caught fire while it was docked downtown. More than 100 people died in the flames; more than in any other disaster to ever happen in our city. So many died, in fact, that the Horticulture Building was turned into a makeshift morgue. Some of the bodies were so badly burned that the authorities were forced to develop new techniques of dental X-ray identification in order to ID the victims.

It's quite possibly the saddest thing to ever happen in Toronto — and it happened on the exact same spot where more than 60 years later, our Mayor got into a stupid fight with a pop star about his drug use. (Um, the Mayor's drug use, that is, not the pop star's.)

The Horticulture Building, 1920 (via Toronto Then And Now)



The Horticulture Building in 1927 (via Chuckman's always awesome postcard blog)



Inside the Horticulture Building in 1950 (via Toronto Then And Now)



Victims of the Noronic fire in 1949 (via the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

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You can read my old post about the Noronic disaster here. And learn more about the Toronto Dreams Project's Department of Photographic Hauntings here. Metro has the story of the CNE's EDM ban here. The Star has the story of Ford's alleged coke-snorting, puking and Bieber fight here.