Paul Godfrey battles the menace of rowdy teens at drive-in restaurants in mid-1960s suburbia.
“Sex-and-snacks draw fire.” “Bra and bottles litter lawns.” “North York fears another Yorkville.” Mid-1960s headlines such as these suggested the end of Western civilization for the upstanding, hard-working taxpayers of North York.
The roots of such decadence? Your friendly neighbourhood hamburger stand. The mix of angry residents, youth gone wild, and ambitious local politicians created hysteria in some quarters over the monitoring of drive-in restaurants in suburban Toronto. Leading the charge against this terror? None other than future Metro Chairman and media mogul Paul Godfrey.
Godfrey viewed his teenage self during the 1950s as a “quiet, fat, short kid” who sat at the back of the classroom, a depiction which doesn’t paint him as the type of young adult prone to hanging around the emerging drive-in culture. While studying chemical engineering at U of T, Godfrey followed in the footsteps of his mother and entered the world of North York politics, working on the campaigns of reeve Norman Goodhead. When Godfrey decided to run for alderman in 1964, the 25-year-old candidate found while canvassing door-to-door that his youth dampened his credibility among some voters. Despite this, he pressed on and won the seat for Ward 4 (an area on North York’s south end bounded by Bathurst Street, Highway 401, and the railway line west of Caledonia Road).
Once in office, Godfrey quickly developed a reputation as a hard-working councillor with an open ear to his constituents. A profile in the Telegram noted his responsiveness to residents (answering a minimum of 12 voter phone calls a day) and “his knack at finding explosive issues and exploiting [the] same.”
This tendency made the rising number of complaints about rowdy teens at local drive-ins he received during the summer of 1966 an ideal issue to champion. That July, Godfrey gave notice that he was preparing a motion to North York Council to amend the zoning by-law governing restaurants to allow tighter regulation of drive-ins. Among the 75 letters and numerous phone calls complaining about drive-ins Godfrey received, highlights included a resident who claimed to have witnessed gangs scrapping with clubs and crowbars at one restaurant, while another complained about catcalls directed at his wife. Godfrey noted that while some drive-ins were well-run, reputable dining establishments, others were “centres of sin” where promiscuous patrons guzzled booze. He wanted North York’s Traffic, Fire, and Licensing Committee to crack down on what he saw as “sip ‘n sex” havens. “There is a place for such restaurants in North York,” Godfrey told council, “but not beside residential areas.”
Not all of Godfrey’s council peers were sympathetic to his arguments. During the July 18, 1966 council session, Robert Yuill asked if Godfrey had actually witnessed any of the issues he’d described. “I’m curious as to how much sex and drinking is taking place,” Yuill said. “The complaints I’ve heard concern noise and garbage and litter.” Godfrey responded that while he hadn’t personally seen any mayhem, “the resulting debris strewn about is strong evidence.” Joseph Gould criticized Godfrey for picking on drive-ins, noting that police observation had fixed the problems at a rowdy restaurant in his ward. Gould felt that council had not received too many complaints, and that by raising “the wrong kind of publicity,” Godfrey’s actions would only make gawkers show up at drive-ins. Murray Chusid observed that “there is a heavy suggestion here that those who eat hamburgers are more promiscuous that those who eat steak.”
Over the next few months, the traffic committee studied the issue. Among those it called on was Metro Toronto Police superintendent Charles Bond, who noted that 143 charges were laid between October 1965 and August 1966 against patrons of an unnamed Avenue Road drive-in, mostly for littering. Bond didn’t support having off-duty constables patrol the drive-ins. “I shudder at the thought of a policeman regulating the comings and goings of people in a restaurant,” he noted.
It’s likely that the unnamed litterbug-infested drive-in was the Harvey’s at Avenue Road and Melrose Avenue. Having launched as a single burger stand in Richmond Hill in 1959, by 1967 the chain had 42 locations stretching from Buffalo to Montreal, 13 of which were in the Toronto area. Harvey’s president George B. Sukornyk was aware of complaints about the Avenue Road location, but noted that such trouble didn’t occur elsewhere. Comparing that site to his peaceful Montreal locations, Sukornyk told the Globe and Mail that he had studied rowdyism for five years and determined that “the difference is in parental influence and religious background.”
Such distinctions mattered little to angry residents along Melrose Avenue. Their rage boiled over at a North York traffic committee meeting on April 13, 1967. Thirty people walked into the room armed with six bags of garbage they claimed was left on their front lawns by Harvey’s patrons. As they started dumping food packaging, half-eaten burgers, whisky bottles, bikini tops, and other debris onto a table, committee chairman Walter Cassels ordered them to stop, lest they be booted out.
Resident spokesperson Mrs. W.G. Keane rattled off a list of problems caused by the drive-in, especially between 12:30 a.m. and its 4:00 a.m. closing time. Among them: teens fighting in the streets, public urination, vomit left on doors, obscenities shouted at residents, car racing, vehicles parked in the middle of the street, patrons shocking the neighbours by dropping their underwear in front of them, stray used contraceptive devices, and noxious cooking fumes. There were even reports of men sitting in their cars during the day who tried to entice children into their vehicles. “Residents are afraid to allow their teenaged daughters to walk along the street beside the parked cars because of the unpleasant comments they must hear, and the acts they see,” Keane observed. She even pointed out that gas tankers had problems making deliveries to the local service station due to cars blocking the driveway.
Godfrey supported the complainants, noting that a few teens had “erected a hell in the area” which was in danger of turning into a crazy youth scene à la Yorkville. He felt there was no reason for youths, especially 14- and 15-year-old girls, to be roaming the streets until four in the morning, and supported calls for an early closing bylaw. Charles Bond was sympathetic to the concerns, but continued to believe that police shouldn’t act as bouncers. “It’s like getting the police to stop people from putting their cigarette butts in their coffee cups,” he noted.
Harvey’s director Edward Kozak felt his company was being “persecuted from stem to stern,” and unfairly receiving the blame for problems which existed throughout Metro Toronto. “Most of our customers are decent and legitimate,” he told the committee. “We are being persecuted for giving good value. That’s why we’re busy.” Kozak claimed that the late hours were partly to accommodate local shift workers. He also noted that all of the 16 air pollution complaints about Harvey’s came from two residents of Melrose Avenue, but that the restaurant agreed to install more equipment to fight fumes. As for garbage, Kozak indicated that a man was hired to pick up the trash within a five-block radius.
In an editorial published two days later, the Star defended the right of homeowners to a peaceful existence. But it also defended the right of drive-in restaurant proprietors to carry out business. “Drive-in restaurants are causes of complaint in several other parts of Metro,” the editorial observed. “They aren’t the culprits; they don’t peddle the whisky bottles that litter Melrose Avenue. They legitimately serve food. Let the police get after the actual offenders.”
Melrose resident Harry S. Boyd disagreed with the Star’s view. In a letter to the editor, Boyd noted that while businesses like gas stations and supermarkets could operate responsibly into the wee hours of the morning, Harvey’s had “a clientele that is largely made up of young people who seem dedicated to disorderly conduct of the most offensive kind, designed to shock the residents.” He felt that “it would take a battalion of police to cover the area and effectively maintain a reasonable degree of peace and order, such as that we enjoyed before the advent of the hamburger joint—which you dignify with the name ‘restaurant.’”
Meanwhile, North York’s traffic committee plotted its strategy to battle rowdies at Harvey’s, which was becoming known as “the place where the action is.” The spectre of Yorkville continued to serve as a warning of the horrors of youth culture gone amok. Councillor Gordon Hurlbut visited one night at 11:30 p.m. and found youths in a shouty mood. He blamed the restaurant for not hiring a lot supervisor. Cassels blamed police for not curbing mischief happening a block away from the restaurants, activities he felt Harvey’s could not be held accountable for.
The furor surrounding Harvey’s played into heightened fears surrounding juvenile delinquency in North York. Based on a series of isolated incidents around this time, there were complaints about vandalism and other mayhem perpetrated by the students of Bayview Junior High School. Around 100 students showed their displeasure by staging a protest outside the school on April 21, 1967. A local paper, the Enterprise, treated the event as a childish exercise, as most of those demonstrating “appeared ignorant of the principle that the purpose of a demonstration is to bring attention to a point of view or injustice.” The Enterprise had recently published articles depicting the students as delinquents, so when a reporter showed up, they were greeted with jeers, threats (“Whoever wrote that will get smashed”), and a kick to the shin.
On May 11, the traffic committee approved a series of recommendations regarding Harvey’s. Among them: no stopping on Melrose between 11:00 p.m. and 4 a.m., increased police patrols, stronger street lighting, erecting “no littering signs” warning of fines up to $800, and ordering Harvey’s to erect a fence (to prevent litter from blowing off the lot), install better washroom signs, and install a $4,000 filter to reduce the cooking smell. The restaurant had already decided to close at 2 a.m. instead of 4 a.m.
Residents plagued by drive-ins in other areas of North York were inspired to air their complaints. “Hamburgers are a hazard,” declared one Deloraine Avenue resident at a traffic committee session in September 1967, referring to the nightly circus created by patrons of Daddy’s on Bathurst Street. Fellow Deloraine Avenue resident Mort Manilla urged that North York create a bylaw which would force drive-ins to hire car hops or waitresses. The delegation also complained about advertising which depicted drive-ins as “a place to meet the gang.” As one angry homeowner put it, “they’re licensed to hold teenage rallys (sic) after midnight.”
As for the Avenue and Melrose Harvey’s location, installing a policeman out front reduced incidents. Traffic committee members undertook surprise visits after midnight to check on the burger joint. Cassels thought the smell issues still needed work. “It’s bad enough having to smell hamburgers cooking for a little while from a next-door barbecue, he told a committee meeting in September 1967. “It would be beyond endurance to have to put up with that 24 hours a day.” Yet endurance did build up, as there is still a Harvey’s at that intersection. Looking at it now, with its modern exterior and middle-brow offerings from sister chain Swiss Chalet, it’s hard to imagine the furor this location once caused.
In a May 1967 North York Mirror profile, Godfrey reflected on accusations that his actions were guided by the need for publicity. “Certain issues must be brought to public attention,” he noted. “When people approach me on issues I find the most effective way of making these is through the news media.” He also made no secret about his political ambitions: “Where the top is, that’s where I want to be.” Godfrey accurately predicted that he would become chair of Metro Toronto, though it’s hard to say whether he would have imagined achieving that position within six years of the interview. His long career in various positions of power, which once earned him the title of “Toronto’s most famous closer,” has brought him from declaring war on local burger joints to his current duties as president and CEO of Postmedia.
Additional material from the July 13, 1966, July 20, 1966, April 19, 1967, April 26, 1967, and September 6, 1967 editions of the Enterprise; the July 19, 1966, September 2, 1966, April 14, 1967, and July 25, 1967 editions of the Globe and Mail; the July 20, 1966, April 19, 1967, and May 17, 1967 editions of the North York Mirror; the July 4, 1966, April 14, 1967, April 15, 1967, April 20, 1967, April 28, 1967, May 12, 1967, and September 27, 1967 editions of the Toronto Star; and the December 2, 1966 and April 14, 1967 editions of the Telegram.