Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Favourite Posts of 2015

Well, apparently I've written fewer posts on the blog this year than in any other year since I launched the Dreams Project. But I'm going to go ahead and say that's because this year's posts were bigger, longer, more detailed and more ambitious than ever before. So I'm especially happy to share my favourites from 2015. They cover everything from drunken Prime Ministers to bloody, fashion-driven wars, from ghosts to dogs to pirates, plus plenty of baseball, too. Some of them are among the most popular posts I wrote this year; others are just personal faves.

The last couple of months have been especially quiet around these parts — but that's mostly because I've been caught up working on some exciting new ideas for 2016. Thanks so much to everyone who has read and shared and commented over the last twelve months. The next twelve should be a lot of fun.
So here we go!

Sir John A. Macdonald, Drunk and In Flames
It's one of the best-known facts in all of Canadian history: our first Prime Minister drank. Like, a lot. Sir John A. Macdonald wasn't just a charming social drinker; he got the kind of drunk where you find yourself puking on a chair at the Governor General's residence. Or throwing up on stage during a public debate. There were times when he went on benders that lasted for days, too drunk to show up for his official duties. And on a winter night in London, England — right in the middle of the final negotiations over Confederation — it seems to have nearly cost him his life... [continue reading this post from January 5, 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... [continue reading this post from January 21, 2015]

Marcel Duchamp & John Cage Play Magical 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... [continue reading this post from March 4, 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... [continue reading this post from March 17, 2015]

The Bloody Burlington Races & The War for Lake Ontario
They appeared out of the darkness, looming above the waves. Ten warships sailing across Lake Ontario, far out in the water south of Toronto. They were first spotted at dawn, as the black September night gave way to the light of day, wooden hulls carving through the waves, sails stretching high into the early morning sky. From each of the ships flew the red, white and blue: fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. The American fleet. This was 1813. Toronto was in the middle of a war zone. And it was going to be a bloody day... [continue reading this post from March 31, 2015]

An Illustrated History of Baseball in Toronto
No one knows exactly when baseball was born. There's a bullshit story about an American war hero, Abner Doubleday, inventing the game in the 1830s, but that's a lie. What we do know is that by the end of the 1850s, baseball had already arrived in Toronto. That's when the Globe wrote about a local team practicing every Monday afternoon on the U of T grounds. But back then, many Torontonians still sneered at the new sport — they dismissed it as a sandlot game played by "undesirables." Cricket and lacrosse were much more respectable. And they were much more popular, too... [continue reading this post from April 13, 2015] 

Plus, I wrote a couple of other baseball-related posts this year:
On José Bautista's Bat Flip & The Making of History in Toronto
The Tragic Tale of Toronto's First Big Baseball Star

The True Story of Toronto's Island Ghost
They say that on some dark nights, as an eerie mist creeps over the Toronto islands, you can still hear him moaning somewhere in the distance. On others, you might hear him walking up the steps of the old lighthouse, even though there's no one there — or see a ghostly light shining up top, even when the lantern isn't lit. Sometimes, you might find his fresh blood spilled on those old wooden stairs. Or even catch a glimpse of him yourself: a spectre stalking through the undergrowth, or wandering the paths around the lighthouse, bloodied and beaten, his arms missing. They say he's the ghost of Toronto's first lightkeeper and that he's searching for the pieces of his body that were hacked off more than two hundred years ago and buried somewhere in the sand... [continue reading this post from April 30, 2015] 

Toronto's Founding Dog — And How He Almost Got Eaten
It was the summer of 1793. The summer our city was founded. On an early Tuesday morning, as the late July sun rose above Lake Ontario, a British warship sailed into Toronto Bay. She was the HMS Mississauga. She had sailed overnight from Niagara, arriving in darkness, waiting for dawn and a local fur trader to show her the way through the treacherous shoals at the mouth of the harbour. On board was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada: John Graves Simcoe. His family was with him, too. The Simcoes had come to found a new capital for the new province: a tiny muddy town that would eventually grow into a booming metropolis of concrete and glass filled with millions of people... [continue reading this post from May 27, 2015] 

A Tour of Queen & Spadina A Hundred Years Ago
It has been nearly two hundred years since the intersection of Queen & Spadina was born. When the two roads first met, Toronto still wasn't even a city yet: it was the town of York, home to less than two thousand people. Queen Street had been one of the very first roads the British built when they got here, part of the original plans for Toronto all the way back in 1793. They called it Lot Street back then, the northern edge of the first few blocks built in the new town (right around the St. Lawrence Market). A few decades later, it was renamed in honour of Queen Victoria.

By then, Spadina had also been built. It was laid out as a wide avenue by William Warren Baldwin, a doctor and lawyer who also designed Osgoode Hall and would play a leading role in the political struggle for Canadian democracy. He had just built a brand new house on his sprawling country estate; it stood on the hill above Davenport: the original Spadina House. Baldwin had the grand avenue carved out of the forest south of his home in order to get a better view of the lake. The estate, the house and the new road would all be given the same name: Spadina. It's an Anglicized version of an Ojibwe word: "Ishpadinaa" ("a place on a hill").

So it was when Baldwin built his avenue in the 1820s that the intersection of Queen & Spadina was first created...  [continue reading this post from June 23, 2015]

Toronto's Rebel Mayor & His Pirate Admiral
William Lyon Mackenzie ran for his life. His rebellion had failed. It was a disaster. His rebel army was crushed on Yonge Street. His headquarters at Montgomery's Tavern were burned to the ground north of Eglinton. Some of his men were already dead. Others would soon be hanged for treason. Just a few years earlier, Mackenzie had been the first Mayor of Toronto. Now, he was the city's most wanted fugitive. The Lieutenant Governor was offering a £1000 reward for his capture. So Mackenzie was forced to flee the city he loved, smuggled through the countryside by his supporters as gangs of angry Loyalists searched for him. He ran all the way south to Niagara, getting rowed across the river just a few minutes ahead of the men who had come to arrest him. He was lucky to escape Canada with his life. He would spend the next decade living in exile.

But Mackenzie wasn't ready to give up. Not yet. His failed rebellion in Toronto was just the beginning. Now, he and his supporters would launch a war against the British government in Canada, hoping a series of bloody border raids would spark a full-scale democratic revolution. It would last a year — for pretty much all of 1838. We call it the Patriot War.

And the rebel's admiral in that war was a man by the name of Pirate Bill Johnston... [continue reading this post from July 8, 2015]    

John Graves Simcoe, Napoleon Bonaparte & The Politics of Horseshit
This is a photo of horse shit. But it's not just any photo of horse shit. This horse shit is on Woodbury Common — a beautiful patch of heathland in the English countryside. And with horse shit on Woodbury Common, you can tell a story about the founder of Toronto — John Graves Simcoe — and about a man who challenged him to a duel over that dung.

This was a few years after Simcoe founded Toronto. He'd come back home to England by then, returning to his country in a deeply troubled time. England was at war with France... [continue reading this post from August 3, 2015]

The Beaver Wars & Toronto in the 1600s
1687. A year of war and famine on the shores of Lake Ontario. That summer, on a night in early July, an army camped near the mouth of the Rouge River, at the very eastern edge of what's now the city of Toronto. A few thousand men — professional soldiers from France, militia from Québec and their First Nations allies — feasted on venison before bed. They were tired, finally heading home at the end of a bloody campaign against the Seneca.

Their war was driven by a fashion trend. Far on the other side of the Atlantic, in the cobblestone capitals of Europe, hats made of beaver felt were all the rage. The demand had already driven European beavers to the brink of extinction. Now, the furriers turned to the Americas to feed their ravenous sartorial appetite. The competition over the slaughter of the large, aquatic rodents plunged the Great Lakes into more than a century of bloodshed and violence. By the end of the 1600s, a series of conflicts had been raging for decades on end. Thousands of warriors fought bloody battles over control of the fur trade. They called them the Beaver Wars.... [continue reading this post from December 16, 2015]

No comments:

Post a Comment