Historicist: One Fine Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Day in Toronto

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Historicist: One Fine Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Day in Toronto

Every Saturday morning Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters—good and bad—that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.

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Crowd looking over fence at wrecked automobile in ditch, south side of Dupont, east of Christie, c. 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 61.


Attention drivers intending to head out of the city for a relaxing weekend drive: if a bill before the Ontario legislature is passed, you may have to keep your brand new Model T off country roads on Saturdays and Sundays. According to The Star, “the two days selected were picked on as Saturday is market day, when the country roads are very busy with farmers’ conveyances, and Sunday was chosen as the ‘day of rest.'” Fear not drivers, as the proposed law does not apply to urban areas and “the bill is so drastic that it is hardly probable it will pass the House.”
The spectre of driving restrictions was just one of the stories the city’s newspaper readers found when they cracked open one of Toronto’s six competing dailies (Globe, Mail and Empire, News, Star, Telegram, World) on March 6, 1909.
More stories from Toronto’s seventy-fifth birthday in a minute. But first, a word from our sponsor…


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Source: The Globe, March 6, 1909

Celebrations for the city’s seventy-fifth birthday were muted, as they were confined to hoisting flags on civic buildings and ringing bells at City Hall for five minutes at noon. Bells were also rung at St. Lawrence Hall and fire stations across the city. The Telegram longed for festivities equivalent to those held for the city’s fiftieth anniversary in 1884, with wistful memories of that year’s parades. They noted that “Toronto has moved with giant strides since then. No longer can the general visitor reach her northern, eastern or western boundaries in an easy walk from the General Post Office. Nowadays one may travel more than eight miles in a straight line, and still be inside the city limits, and passing an almost continuous row of shops and habitations.” The Mail and Empire complained that “the civic authorities are too busy just now planning for future development to stop to review the past.”

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University College, University of Toronto, 1917. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 306


Behind the walls of University College was a battle over the teaching of religion. University of Toronto governor Samuel Hume Blake issued a pamphlet (The Teaching of Religious Knowledge in University College Ultra Vires) which detailed how the offering of a course on “Biblical knowledge” violated University College’s secular charter and how students interested in such courses should take them at one of the religious colleges. Later writers have indicated that Blake was more worried about the course opening up more progressive views about religion among students than he held. The furor resulted in Blake’s resignation from the Board of Governors.
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Source: The News, March 6, 1909

On the drama beat, The News was approached by Thomas Henry, the manager of the Gayety Theatre vaudeville house on Richmond Street. Henry wanted to share his concerns on how the city’s theatres could avoid the ever-present harassment of the morality squad when it came to plays and performers who showed the slightest hint of sauciness.

Would it not be a good idea for the managers of all the theatres in the city to meet the Mayor and Police Commissioners and discuss the situation?…What I want to do is to have a clean show all the time, and I have to do it now under the eye of the Morality Department.
An officer sees the first performance. If there is anything in it he finds objectionable and orders to be cut out it is cut out. We do not know all the shows that come and in some cases the performers are likely to ring in something that won’t do. Then it is eliminated.
Instead of blaming the managers of theatres for objectionable doings or sayings on the stage, I think it would be more fair to prosecute the offending performer. The man or woman who is the culprit should be taken charge of at once by the police as a disorderly person and punished. After a few of them have been up in the Police Court that way the incidents will gain enough publicity in the profession to warrant immunity from any repetitions.
There is no desire on our part to run anything but an absolutely clean show and I am perfectly satisfied with the conditions of censorship which exist now. It’s a mistaken idea to think that the dirty and vulgar show is a money-maker. It may attract a few who might not come otherwise, but on the other hand, it keeps away a lot of good patrons who are among the regulars, We have many of the best business and professional men in the city as our patrons and they do not want vulgar shows.

When asked for his opinion of Henry’s proposals, Mayor Joseph Oliver indicated that “my idea of cutting out objectionable plays is to close up the theatre that presents them. Just as soon as the wrong show has made its character known, stop it, and take away the license from theatre.”

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Logo for “Madge Merton’s Page for Women”, designed by C.W. Jefferys. Source: The Toronto Star, March 6, 1909

Pages for female readers were full of advice that weekend, even if most of it seems antiquated to modern eyes. The Star’s Madge Merton offered words of wisdom on how to handle talking about touchy subjects and airing one’s dirty laundry. Her insight can be summed up in one simple word (“don’t”), but here’s the extended version:

Is there to be nothing which people may keep to themselves? Are we coming to a time where the innermost concerns of families, the most terrible details of crimes, the horrors, the foolishness, the hopes and fears of all people are to be spread from mouth to mouth?…Is somebody going to get a divorce? Well, let them, if they must, but keep the air of your house clean. Don’t discuss divorces and reasons for divorces, and don’t mention all you ever heard of, and those you suspect are coming. ‘It’s all in the papers,’ you say. Yes, and it will be so long as people who pose as respectable, clear-minded folk, with cultured minds, like yourself, will read it. There’s so much levelness in the world. Why not look for it? There’s so much joy in the world. Why not have some for yourself?

Those respectable, clean-minded folk could have turned to the day’s court reports, which included a steady stream of misdeeds. Crimes included domestic assault, the theft of woolen underwear, and public inebriation due to “taking too much firewater.” The City Magistrate offered eight vagrants a one-time offer of paying one dollar as their fine to avoid further overcrowding at the Don Jail. The prison set a record for occupants the night before, with 322 inmates in a facility then designed to hold 180—most of the excess prisoners were forced to sleep in the corridors.

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