Thursday, December 23, 2010

Photo: Eaton's Racist Christmas Display in 1955

Eaton's window, Christmas, 1955

Oh boy. So. According to the Archives of Ontario, Eaton's was pretty hesitant to start using religious imagery in their famous Christmas window displays. At first, they played it safe, sticking with Santa Claus and toys and gifts, worried that Christian church leaders would be offended if the department store mixed Jesus with commercialism. But in 1945, they were feeling ballsy: they added some religiously-themed Christmas carols to the mix, playing them over a loud speaker to accompany their displays. It was a hit. Church leaders, far from being upset, actively encouraged their congregations to head down to Yonge and Queen. After that, it was open season. There were nativity scenes and baby Jesuses all over the place.

And so it was that in 1955, with their fears of religious insensitivity far behind them, T. Eaton & Co. decided to decorate their windows with scenes of what it would have been like if other cultures around the world had been witness to the Christmas star. There were Africans in a thatched-hut village, Inuit in the frozen north and, dropping to their knees in prayer, aboriginals outside their tee-pees. (Also, for some reason, Dutch people.)

The Archives of Ontario have photos of each of them (Africans here, Inuit here and the Dutch here) as part of a brief history of Eaton's Christmas displays, which you can find here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Samuel Jarvis' Deadly Duel

Samuel Jarvis in the 1850s
In 1781, William Jarvis got shot. They say it's probably the best thing that ever happened to him.  Before that he was just an ordinary soldier, one of tens of thousands of Americans who stayed loyal to the British and fought on their side during the American Revolution. But when he got wounded during a battle in Virginia, he caught the attention of his commanding officer. And that commanding officer just so happened to be John Graves Simcoe, the guy who would soon be running all of Upper Canada. When Simcoe decided to build a new town on the banks of Toronto Harbour his first step was to give a bunch of free land to men he knew from his fighting days. Like William Jarvis.

Jarvis got a spot in town—at Sherbourne and Adelaide—plus one of the hundred-acre "park lots" (strips of land running between Queen Street and Bloor). It was, not surprisingly, right where Jarvis Street is now. In return, all he had to do was move here with his family, build a road around his property and totally suck at being a government administrator.

When you read anything about William Jarvis, the same kinds of adjectives keep popping up: "inefficient and careless", "incompetent and corrupt", "incompetent, lazy, selfish and dishonest". Even in early Torontoa town crawling with incompetent, corrupt officialshe and his wife were hated.  They bitched and moaned about everything; Jarvis once tried to challenge four men to a duel all at the same time, his wife called the other elites "a lot of Pimps, Sycophants and Lyars." And as if that weren't enough, they were one of the few Toronto families ever to have owned slaves.

Jarvis' son, Samuel, followed in his father's sucktastic footsteps. As a young man, he fought with the British against the Americans in the War of 1812, but then relied on his connections to land a cushy government job so he could settle down to a life of corruption, scandal and financial idiocy, just like his dad. And like his dad, he made lots of enemies.

Like, say, John Ridout. The details of their feud are a bit sketchy, but it seems like Jarvis probably owed the young law student money. He owed a lot of people money. What we do know for sure is that one day in the summer of 1817, Ridout came to see Jarvis at work and got thrown out of his office. Soon after that, they were fighting in the street. That's when Jarvis challenged him to a duel.

They met at dawn the next day in a meadow, at what's now the south-east corner of Yonge and College. Once they and their seconds had agreed to the rules, Jarvis and Ridout drew their pistols, turned their backs on each other, took eight steps and waited for the count: one... two...

Ridout fired early. And missed.

At first, there was confusion. No one was quite sure what to do; what the rules and honour dictated. But it was eventually decided that Ridout should return to the spot he'd fired from so that Jarvis could take a free shot. Which he did. The bullet hit Ridout right in the chest.

According to the autopsy, he died pretty much instantly, but by the time the authorities showed up, Jarvis and the seconds were claiming that he had lived just long enough to forgive them all and absolve them completely of any responsibility. The lying didn't work; Jarvis was arrested and charged with murder. Luckily for him, there were still plenty of people in those days who thought that firing guns at each other while standing a few meters away was the proper way to settle disputes, so Jarvis was acquitted.

But the controversy was far from over. The duel haunted him for years, and ended up playing an important role in the politics of Upper Canada. A decade later, his enemies were still using it against him. Worst of them all was a reform-minded newspaperman who had just moved to town: William Lyon Mackenzie. He hated the Jarvises and the rest of the handful of anti-democratic, pro-monarchy conservatives running things, nicknaming them the "Family Compact" and using his paper, The Colonial Advocate, to trash them every chance he got. He called some demons, some jackals, some funguses and Samuel Jarvis a murderer.

Jarvis was incensed. He rounded up a bunch of like-minded Tories, dressed them like indigenous peoples and attacked the newspaper's offices. While his wife and children hid in the basement, Mackenzie's whole operation was destroyed, his printing press broken, and all the typeface throw into Lake Ontario.

But the Type Riot backfired. Mackenzie sued the vandals, won, and used the money to fund an even bigger operation. Meanwhile Jarvis was reduced to defending himself in pamphlets with catchy titles like "A Contradiction of the Libel Under the Signature of 'A Relative,' Published in the Canadian Freeman, of the 28th February, 1828; Together with a Few Remarks, Tracing The Origin of the Unfriendly Feeling Which Ultimately Led to the Unhappy Affair to Which That Libel Refers". Within a  few years, Mackenzie would be elected as the first mayor of Toronto, lead an attempted revolution and play an important in role in bringing true democracy to Canada.

But that's a story for another post...


A version of this story will appear in
The Toronto Book of the Dead
Coming September 2017

Pre-order from Amazon, Indigo, or your favourite bookseller
You can still see Jean Ridout's grave mounted on the wall inside St. James Cathedral downtown. And you can read Jarvis' pamphlet here. William Jarvis, despite the impression I've been under for months now, is NOT the same person as William Botsford Jarvis, one of our earliest sheriffs, co-founder of the village of Yorkville, and the guy who owned Rosedale back went it was a forested country estate. You can also read lots more about the Jarvis family on the Jarvis Collegiate website, which is quick to point out that the school was named after the street and not directly in honour of those jerks.

This post is related to dream
09 The Ghost of John Ridout
Samuel Jarvis, 1826

This post is related to dream
10 The Battle of Montgomery's Tavern
William Lyon Mackenzie, 1837

Friday, December 17, 2010

Meet The Little Red Umbrella

Sorry, things have been quiet around these parts for the last couple of weeks, but with good reason, I promise. I've been spending some of my time working on an especially epic and time-consuming post about the duel Samuel Jarvis fought at Yonge and College in 1817—and the rest of my waking hours on a brand new project I'm pretty excited about. Some friends and I have just launched a new online magazine, The Little Red Umbrella, which the curious among you can find here. I'm going to be posting highlights from The Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera Blog there, along with posts about pretty much anything else I find interesting or cool. And that will include historical stories and ephemera from places other than Toronto. (Yesterday, for instance, I published a bunch of gorgeous, colour photos from the First World War. You can check 'em out here.) We'll also write about music, film, tv, lit, style, politics and everything else we think is neat. Things may be a little slow over the holidays; we'll really kick things into gear in the New Year.

Meanwhile, you can follow us on Twitter here. Or like us on Facebook here.

And I'll be back shortly with that Samuel Jarvis post. I swear!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Greatest Photo of Mel Lastman You've Ever Seen


This, as I'm sure you'll recall, is the inept, racist furniture salesman who used to run the city by staying in touch with the common man and proving that he knew how to tighten his belt, unlike those elite, bike-ridding downtowners. I'm not sure where Eye Weekly found the photo, but they posted it with a frustrating interview they did with him about this year's election, here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Few Animal-Friendly Paragraphs From When Toronto Was For Kids

Pape Avenue in 1922
A friend of mine recently gave me a pretty amazing book. It was written in the 1960s by  a guy named Robert Thomas Allen. Apparently he was a "humourist"; mostly he comes across as a curmudgeonly old man pissed off that the Toronto he knew growing up in the '20s has given way to the modern age. Grumble grumble back in my day grumble grumble.

But the 120 pages are chock full of intimate details of what life was like, christ, nearly a hundred years ago now. One of my favourite bits is when he talks about all the animals that used to be wandering around:

"One thing wrong with these times of increasing populations and expanding cities is that people only know people. Nobody knows animals any more, the way they did when there were delivery horses and flocks of sparrows on city streets; chickens, geese, and an occasional cow in suburban backyard; and every boy longed to own a guinea pig, rabbit, white rat, ferret, or flock of pigeons, which we found a lot more interesting than human beings...

"There was also a black bear chained over in Phippin's Lumber Yard on Pape Avenue, where you could stand for hours amid the scent of pine shavings, looking at the strange, foreign, snuffing, beady-eyed creature as it sat with its legs spread, front paws dangling, patches of its bare belly as black as shoe leather. It was practically like taking a trip to the Yukon. There was a CNR conductor on Browning Avenue with a racoon, and a kid on Arundel Avenue with a crow, and a woman on Bowden with a parrot that she used to put out on her porch about the time we went to school. We'd keep ourselves late standing there calling without the slightest effect, "Polly want a cracker? Polly want a cracker?"

"We knew all the horses that appeared on the street pulling bakers' and butchers' wagons... There was a horse that used to graze in a field at the top of Broadview Avenue... Now and then a delivery horse took the bit in his mouth and you'd hear the cry go up, "A runaway! Here comes a runaway!" and there'd be the electrifying sight of a horse coming up the front lawns over petunias and wire fences with a bread wagon careening behind it. I used to read in the Boys' Own Annual how to stop a runaway horse by trotting along beside it with my Boy Scout hat on, grabbing one shaft in my left hand and the dangling reigns in my right, gradually bringing the horse to a gentle stop, then turning to the father of my girl, saluting smartly, and saying, "Is this your bread wagon, sir?" But what I used to do when a runaway horse came up the street was to find myself on the veranda, without remembering how I got there, thinking what an impossible life a hero led.


He goes on to talk about all the animal stories he used to love reading, some by Toronto writers like Charles G.D. Roberts and Ernest Thompson Seton, who I recently wrote about in my post "Two Awesome Moustaches vs. The President of the United States", here.

As far as I can tell, When Toronto Was For Kids is out of print, but you can find a copy at the Toronto Reference Library. You just can't take it out. Info here. Oh and I'm pretty sure he grew in the '20s, because he keeps talking about people who've recently returned from the First World War, but he never actually gives any dates.