Historicist: Rise and Fall of the Brown Derby

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Historicist: Rise and Fall of the Brown Derby

Part One of a look at Toronto's Depression-era gambling kingpin, Manny Feder.

Artist's recreation of the police raid on the Brown Derby, from the Star (June 16, 1938)

Artist’s recreation of the police raid on the Brown Derby, from the Star (June 16, 1938).

In the 1930s, if Torontonians wanted to bet a week’s salary on a single roll at the craps table, play blackjack or roulette, or try to turn a $20 wager on a 10-race parlay into more than $5,000, they headed across the Humber River. There, among the holiday camps, restaurants, gas stations, and campgrounds of Lake Shore Road in Humber Bay were a number of plush gambling halls, or “carpet joints,” like the Brown Derby. The jewel in the underworld empire of Manny Feder—”the king of the bookmakers in Toronto,” as veteran crime reporter Jocko Thomas dubbed him—the Brown Derby did a flourishing business beyond the reach of the Toronto Police.

Artist's depiction of a table games at an unnamed Lake Shore Road gambling den, from the Star (January 30, 1929)

Artist’s depiction of a table games at an unnamed Lake Shore Road gambling den, from the Star (January 30, 1929)

In her history of gambling in Canada, Suzanne Morton argues that gambling grew more popular across all segments of society during the Depression because games of skill and chance offered both entertainment and the potential for quick profit to escape tough financial circumstances. But apart from parimutuel machines at the horse track or playing cards at private social clubs, all other forms of gambling—sports-betting, punchboards, neighbourhood sweepstakes, and church bingo—were illegal. While wealthy sportsmen had the leisure to spend an afternoon at the track during business hours, or could afford the membership fees for members-only clubs, blue-collar punters were driven towards illegal channels. For every dollar wagered legally at parimutuel machines in Canada during the 1930s and 1940s, by one estimation, there were three to five dollars in illegal off-track bets.

In Toronto, a lot of those bets were made on horses, hockey games, and other sports at any number of barbershops, taxi stands, greasy spoons, and cigar stores that acted as fronts for a city-wide bookmaking network—a large portion of which, it turned out, was controlled by Manny Feder. In addition to gambling, bookmaking operations were also a popular venues for leisure, where working men gathered to hear accounts of horse races from across North America, broadcast over shop hook-ups to race wire services. Bookie joints were so thick along Queen Street West in the 1930s, Bob Bossin recounts in his memoir of his bookmaking father, “that on a hot day when the bookies had their windows open, you could walk along Queen and hear an entire race broadcast without missing a furlong.”

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(Left: Star [December 9, 1929].)

“But the [downtown] bookie joints were really small potatoes,” veteran crime reporter Jocko Thomas recalls. “The heavy action was at the magnificent gambling casinos that operated openly” beyond the city limits, in Scarborough, East York, Etobicoke, and Mimico. The advantage of setting up shop in Humber Bay, where the Brown Derby and the National Sporting Club were located, was in being close enough to the city to attract downtown patrons, but being beyond the jurisdictional reach of the well-organized Toronto Police who, Chief Constable D.C. Draper’s foibles aside, aggressively enforced morality laws. By comparison, the police department in Etobicoke Township—which had jurisdiction in Humber Bay—was miniscule and under-resourced, with eight men with two patrol cars to offer 24-hour service for a sparsely-populated geographic area larger than Toronto. Moreover, Bossin notes, the policemen, politicians, and municipal officials in Toronto’s western suburbs “had a reputation for being approachable.”

The first of the major carpet joints established west of Toronto—and the most well-known—was the National Sporting Club, established in the 1920s on the bank of the Humber River on the south side of Lake Shore Road. Proprietor Abe Orpen, owner of the Dufferin and Long Branch race tracks, straddled the line between criminal and respectable businessman. Just west, on Royal York Road in Mimico, boxing promoter and racehorse owner Willie Morrissey operated the most lavish of the suburban establishments. One of the few to admit women, Morrissey’s club was often filled with social elites dressed in formal evening attire. After the start of the Second World War, the equally opulent Brookwood Club was opened by Samuel Mandel and Bill Beasley a little further up Royal York, where Bishop Allen Academy now stands.

Exterior of the Brown Derby in early 1935 from the Globe (February 18, 1935)

Exterior of the Brown Derby in early 1935 from the Globe (February 18, 1935)

The Atlas Athletic Club, better known as the Brown Derby for the hat-shaped sign on the roof, was more of a ramshackle roadhouse than a posh night-club when it opened in the early 1930s. Set well back from the road on the north side, just east of Salisbury Avenue (Park Lawn Road), Feder’s club “didn’t look like much from the outside,” Trent Frayne remembered, “but it did a roaring business.” The premises, which had a rustic charm courtesy of being “constructed of heavy logs with the bark still on,” featured a refreshment counter, a piano, and an old-fashioned fireplace and hearth. Behind a tapestry at one end of the room was hidden the cashier’s cage. A loudspeaker system relayed the results of horse-races from across the continent.

Globe (February 18, 1935) Interior of the Brown Derby, as seen after a police raid in early 1935  From the Globe (February 18, 1935)

Globe (February 18, 1935)
Interior of the Brown Derby, as seen after a police raid in early 1935. From the Globe (February 18, 1935)

Each night, 200 to 300 patrons packed the gaming floor to shoot dice and playing poker and blackjack on green-baize tables under bright floodlights. The crowd was mixed. While Anglo-Protestant critics blamed certain ethnic groups for illegal gambling and associated crime, good Christian men were just as likely to frequent the Brown Derby as Feder’s Jewish brethren. Here, wealthy businessmen and members of the social elite gambled with more recent immigrants and the sort of off-beat characters who loitered at race tracks and on the fringes of criminal society. The club’s popularity with Toronto patrons was such that streetcar drivers helpfully called out “Brown Derby,” rather than the stop name, when they approached the stop nearest the club.

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(Left: Manny Feder from the Star [June 16, 1938].)

Born in Poland in 1910, Murray (Manny) Feder immigrated to Canada at the age of 10 with his parents and two brothers, Harry and Philip. Although he was a strong student in his school days, Manny learned to hustle from an early age, particularly after his father died around the time he graduated from Jarvis Collegiate with honours. He worked for a time as a gas station attendant and hawking newspapers. “He also learned how to make a [sports] book,” reporter James Y. Nicol wrote years later, “and that’s the best use he could find for his mathematical pursuits.” Indeed, in Anglo-Protestant Toronto, Jewish immigrants and their children were locked out of many avenues of employment, with large banks and insurance firms refusing to hire them, and universities keeping quota restrictions on enrolment in law and medicine. Bossin notes that his father “took up the gambling business because it was one of the few white-collar jobs open to him.”

It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when Manny Feder became involved in crime. As early as 1933, Philip and Harry’s names—and those of other known Feder associates—began appearing in the newspaper bookmaking and gaming operations being run out of storefronts on Spadina and Queen West, and on the top floor of a red-brick house on Markham Street—possibly their own home since the Feders lived at 454 Markham. Some said Manny was involved in fixing horse races, but the only time he was charged with such an offence—for conspiring to fix the sixth race at Thorncliffe Park on June 9, 1937—the case was dismissed for lack of evidence. A charming man of hefty girth, Manny was known as a fastidious dresser. Whether in a brown double-breasted suit or a flashy alice blue suit, he was rarely without a broad-brimmed fedora on his head and a cigar in his mouth,”both tilted at a rakish angle” according to Nicol.

Globe (February 18, 1935)

Globe (February 18, 1935)

On February 16, 1935, police raided the Brown Derby. Acting on instructions from the York County police commission, Chief Constables John Faulds of York Township and Thomas Draycott of Scarborough assembled policemen from across the county—all of whom had, in assuming their local municipal duties, also been sworn in as county constables—and broke down the club’s doors. The officers arrested over 80 people, including Feder himself, confiscated between $1,000 and $2,500, and seized enough gaming tables, betting chips, playing cards, and equipment to fill a police truck. Feder was inconvenienced, being found guilty of keeping a common gaming house and fined $200, but the Brown Derby was soon back in business.

Municipal politicians in Etobicoke, however, were livid. Just a year earlier, Reeve William A. Armstrong had decried that his police department was too small to take any action, and insisted gambling was an issue for provincial police. Now, he was outraged that “outside officers” had come into Etobicoke’s jurisdiction. “They might at least have asked for our co-operation,” Armstrong criticized, pointing out that the local police had visited the establishment three times in the last month “and found nothing wrong.” He characterized the raid as “typical, sensational Americanism,” and suggested: “Local police would not have had to break down doors.” (“If we had waited for the doors to be open,” Chief Faulds retorted, “everything would have been burned up.”)

Exterior of the Brown Derby after an early 1935 police raid, from the Star (February 18, 1935)

Exterior of the Brown Derby after an early 1935 police raid, from the Star (February 18, 1935).

At the behest of county officials, Faulds led several other unilateral, surprise raids of suspected gambling dens that spring. Most of the town and village reeves opposed the practice, however, triggering an extended debate which culminated in the passage of a resolution, at the York County Council meeting in June 1935, “demanding that the [county] refrain from sending police of one municipality to conduct raids in another municipality, unless satisfied that the local force and the county force combined were unequal to the task.”

They had a variety of reasons for opposing the raids. Some elected officials felt the incursions of outsiders slandered their own policemen as either incapable or unwilling to perform their duties. Others were under pressure from ratepayers who thought their communities were left unprotected while local officers participated in raids elsewhere. At least some local politicians and officials frequented carpet joints like the Brown Derby—where, Bossin notes, at least one judge was known to always collect his winnings but never asked to cover his losses. From time to time, there were even suggestions of shadowy interference in suburban municipal elections by gambling figures.

Years later, without mentioning names, an OPP Commissioner testified before a royal commission that an Etobicoke police chief had once admitted that he’d been ordered to lay off Feder’s gambling joints. Indeed, according to Jocko Thomas, despite the Toronto Police’s well-won reputation for incorruptibility, Feder ensured his downtown bookie joints operated without police interference by regularly delivering thick envelopes to the Inspector at a particular Toronto police station.

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(Left: Globe [March 23, 1937].)

When the police needed to make a show of arresting gamblers, Bossin argues, Feder cooperated by offering up a small (or perhaps even phony) bookmaking venue to raiders while the real action continued elsewhere uninterrupted. According to a too-good-to-be-true anecdote passed on by Bossin’s father, Shnooky Schneider, who acted as Feder’s regular fall-guy in such arrangements, “was busted for bookmaking sixty-seven times” with each written up as a first offence. As early as the mid- or late-1930s, Thomas notes, there were rumours that Feder and others were “big contributors” to Mitch Hepburn’s Liberal Party, with MPP Lionel Conacher acting as bagman. This is debatable, however, given the aggression with which Gordon Conant, Hepburn’s attorney general, pursued Feder.

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(Right: Star [January 2, 1937].)

The specific nature and extent of Feder’s connections to possibly corrupt officials is impossible to determine with any certainty. In any regard, as a result of the county council’s resolution, when the Brown Derby was next raided, at three in the afternoon on December 31, 1936, a joint force of York County and Etobicoke policemen found only a half-dozen men playing pool. Only a day earlier, the club had been bustling, but that afternoon it was all but abandoned. An employee of the Brown Derby was overhead admitting, “We knew they were coming. We knew it as early as noon.” The raid had been such a poorly-kept secret that newspapermen had arrived on the scene an hour before the police. No arrests were made.

Meanwhile, in the city, Chief Draper’s strategy was to appeal for public for cooperation with the police’s efforts to suppress illegal gambling. He publicized the “portentous scale” of illegal gambling, which he characterized as “subversive of good government and public morals.” And he drew attention to its most unsavoury aspects, linking the seemingly innocuous storefront bookie joints and “many notorious characters” in the criminal underworld in Toronto and beyond.

Racketeers employed “muscle men,” Draper alleged, to threaten and extort shopkeepers into acting as bookmaking blinds, then made the proprietors the goat if the police raided. It was difficult to determine the scope of such intimidation, police admitted, because the kingpins had moved on to “taking out licenses for baking shops, shoe-shine parlours, cleaning and pressing establishments, and even real estate offices”—none of which were subject to police commission licensing. Draper painted gambling dens as venues where “stolen property is handled, sometimes narcotic drug deals framed, criminal enterprises hatched and planned, criminals and fugitives harboured and alibis concocted.”

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(Left: Star [January 7, 1939].)

Violence remained a reality of the gambling business, though often unreported to police. In 1934, Harry Feder was convicted of aggravated assault for hitting “an old man wearing glasses,” as the magistrate put it, outside a Church Street hotel. Illegal gambling dives and patrons heading home with their winnings attracted armed robbers; and things even escalated to murder.

In the spring of 1938, Inspector Charles W. Scott was summoned to Chief Draper’s office. A 28-year veteran of the force, Scott was regarded as “one of the most colorful of the police force.” He’d made his reputation leading police raids, first of bootleggers in the days of prohibition, and now of bookies. Recognizing storefront blinds as part of a city-wide bookmaking network, Scott had begun leading large-scale sweeps, raiding a half dozen or more places simultaneously. And, recognizing the difficulty of arresting anyone but low-level operatives, Scott had introduced the practice of sending in undercover men—usually rookies, who wouldn’t be recognized as policemen—with instructions “to frequent the known gambling dens to become familiar to the habitués and operators and to collect evidence against the places.”

When Scott arrived in Draper’s office, Cecil L. Snyder, a senior crown attorney detailed by Conant, and Inspector E.D.L. Hammond of the Ontario Provincial Police criminal investigation branch were waiting. On Attorney General Conant’s instructions, Snyder asked the two officers to lead a joint investigation of the Brown Derby, which Conant was convinced had “definite” links to the Detroit underworld. Accepting the task, Scott and Hammond—himself a veteran of prohibition-related undercover work—soon arranged for OPP constables Thomas Oldfield of Palmerston and E.L. Priest of Fort Erie, men who wouldn’t be recognized in Toronto, to act as their undercover operatives.

Exterior of the Brown Derby in June 1938, from the Star (June 16, 1938)

Exterior of the Brown Derby in June 1938, from the Star (June 16, 1938).

On his first visit, on May 14, Oldfield arrived at the Brown Derby just after 6 p.m. He passed through the club’s increased security measures: passing muster with the doormen, and entered through a heavy, electrically controlled door after being given the “‘once over’ through peep-holes” by a guard in a hidden compartment and armed with a sawed-off shotgun. (Fear of hold-up men was the inevitable explanation for social clubs with such elaborate security measures.)

The Brown Derby had prospered since the raid in 1935. The construction of an addition had more than doubled the club’s size. The square, red-brick structure on the east end housed the now more elaborate gaming room, “furnished in modernistic style, air-cooled and conditioned,” as one visitor noted. As he entered, passing first through the original wood structure, which remained predominantly a restaurant area, Oldfield heard race results and odds for upcoming races announced over a loudspeaker system.

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(Right: Cash and dice confiscated from Feder at the Royal York Hotel, from the Star [June 16, 1938].)

“On the whole north side [of the main gaming floor] was a mezzanine gallery from whose end led a catwalk with iron railing across the easterly side of the room,” a reporter later described the premises. On the wall behind the catwalk “was a long black board divided into seven sections,” on which men continuously updated race information. Elsewhere, signs reading “Atlas Sporting Club—Members Only” and “Action taken at all tracks,” adorned the walls. On the ground floor, under the mezzanine, were the wickets where patrons placed wagers and cashed their winners.

The Brown Derby was doing a booming trade, with about 300 people wagering heavily on table games. Oldfield recognized poker and craps—at which he tried his hand—but was bewildered by the bird cage game. On this and subsequent visits on May 16, 17, and 19—occasions when he was joined by Priest—Oldfield placed bets on horses, including picking Bunty Lawless in the King’s Plate, though the undercover man admitted he couldn’t cash in that winning ticket because it was needed as evidence in court.

Globe (June 16, 1938)

Globe (June 16, 1938)

In the late afternoon on Wednesday June 15, 1938, Toronto Police and OPP officers from across southern Ontario assembled at a rendezvous north of Toronto, knowing only that they’d been assigned special duties. Once Inspector Hammond unsealed their orders and distributed crowbars, axes, and sledgehammers, the force raced to the Brown Derby, pulling into the parking lot at 6:15 p.m. No advance notice was given local police or politicians in Etobicoke.

Standing outside the back entrance, doorman Jack Pearl saw the policemen’s rapid arrival and rushed inside to lock down the premises. Although officers battered through the first few doors with relative ease, they got bogged down in a narrow corridor by the heavy door blocking access to the restaurant. By the time they broke through the fifth door, reinforced with 16 one-inch-thick metal bolts, it had taken the police 45 minutes to get from parking lot to the main gaming room.

Oldfield and Priest, who’d arrived inside the club a half hour before the raiders, quietly observed the swirl of activity when the occupants first heard the thuds of police sledgehammers. Harry “Tubby” Lieberman, one of Feder’s main lieutenants, took charge, issuing directions to the croupiers, cashiers, and other staff. Gaming equipment was quickly swept off the tables, and carried into the office, as were record books collected from the wickets. When the loudspeaker system was switched off, patrons were asked to sit beside a radio playing loud music. And the men on the catwalks wiped their enormous chalkboards clean. Finally, Lieberman burned a pile of betting slips left over from the hasty clean-up.

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(Right: Sawed off shotgun found during a raid on the Brown Derby, from the Star [June 16, 1938].)

Toronto Police Sergeant Andrew McKinney—Inspector Scott’s right hand man—was one of the first through the door into the gaming room, where he was immediately informed by Oldfield that several of the employees had disappeared into the office. “I went in. I tapped all the panels until I got one to give a hollow sound,” McKinney later recounted in court. “I got it open and found there was a small cellar behind the panel. I went through and found a trap-door.”

Climbing down, he discovered a cache of cards, dice, betting slips, and chips—and an entrance to a secret, 100-foot-long tunnel. At the other end, crossing through puddles of water and passing loose cash fluttering in the air, McKinney found three men who’d been corralled by an OPP constable. In the parking lot, the other officer had investigated strange sounds from the other side of a fence and discovered the men emerging from an escape hatch in the adjacent field. And, on the ground a few feet away from them, he found $1,865 in cash, wrapped in a thick wad with an elastic band.

The found-ins were a ragged bunch. Greg Clark, observing them later in police court, characterized them as “poorly-dressed guests,” who looked like “truck drivers temporarily out of work, and shy young men in snazzy pin stripe suits of the hand-me-down style.” There were few Anglo-Saxons among them, Clark acknowledged, since the supper-hour timing of the raid ensured that many of the Brown Derby’s usual, but respectable, patrons “were innocently or even piously at home at their evening meal.”

A found in being led out of the Brown Derby during a raid, from the Star (June 16, 1938)

A found-in being led out of the Brown Derby during a raid, from the Star (June 16, 1938).

Manny Feder wasn’t at the Brown Derby that night. When he arrived back at his luxurious Royal York Hotel suite—at the same time as the raid was occurring—he discovered Inspector Scott and several men in the middle of a search. Scott had a complicated relationship with Feder, whose brothers claimed gaming charges against them in 1933 resulted from one of them having “sauced Inspector Scott.” Yet, Scott had a fondness for horse races, and regularly ran into Feder at the track, where they would nod to each other knowingly.

“What’s up?’ the gambling kingpin asked calmly. “I’m here with a search warrant,” Scott greeted him, holding up some paperwork. Then, when the telephone rang, Feder suddenly leaped at the inspector, preventing him from picking up the receiver. Scott—who, as a husky, athletic officer, had a reputation for mixing it up with uncooperative culprits—more than held his own as the two wrestled around the room. Feder managed to pull the telephone cord from the wall, but was arrested for obstructing police, and hustled out by Sergeant Pavelin.

Approaching a waiting vehicle, Feder tried to toss a key from his pocket down a sewer grate, but it bounced off. Despite Feder’s offer of a bribe to forget about the key—as Scott later recounted in a Maclean’s interview—Pavelin handed it over to Scott, who used the key to access a hotel safety deposit box. Inside, police found approximately $6,850 in cash, betting chips that matched the type used at the Brown Derby, and dice. (Scott claimed the dice were loaded, but others later testified there was nothing wrong with them, and the aspersions never impacted Feder’s reputation for honest dealing.)

Arriving in county police court after 10 p.m., Feder quietly slipped into a seat at the back of the busy courtroom. “It’s just an ordinary case of gambling, this isn’t manslaughter or murder,” Feder’s counsel, E.J. “Eddie” Murphy told the judge, trying to have bail demands against the more than 20 found-ins reduced. “Did you say ordinary?” Snyder, appearing for the crown, disputed. “Very well, extraordinary,” Murphy laughed. A large man, he was one of the city’s best known—and most colourful—criminal defence lawyers, known for his “great courtroom presence and Irish wit.” Bail was set at $50 for found-ins, $500 for the employees charged with keeping a common gaming house, and $3,000 for Feder and Lieberman as the alleged ringleaders. In keeping with common practice that the proprietor cover bail and court fines for found-ins, Feder secured the release of all accused through a variety of middle men.

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(Left: Globe [June 17, 1938].)

In addition to confiscating thousands of dollars in cash, playing cards, hundreds of sets of dice marked “A.S.C.”, betting chips, pads of betting slips, and notebooks recording wagers taken over the telephone, the police emptied the club of its larger equipment. One by one, craps and blackjack tables, the microphone and loudspeaker system, signage, the chalkboards, and even the floodlights were loaded onto police trucks for storage at the OPP’s Queen’s Park headquarters. A large safe removed from the office was later found to contain even more dice.

Within days, uniformed constables standing guard over the dormant gambling den reported motorists and passers-by regularly, and without embarrassment, asking when the Brown Derby would reopen for business. The other gambling joints kept so quiet in the wake of the massive Brown Derby sweep, that some proclaimed that large-scale gambling in the suburbs had “died a sudden death.” However, the chairman of the York County police commission suspected the lull was merely temporary. “So long as we drive [gambling] under cover, we will have absolutely no control over it,” he suggested pragmatically. “Only by means of government supervision will we ever be able effectively to control gambling.”

On July 6, the county courthouse on Adelaide Street East was a circus, packed with reporters, defendants, and those just eager for a view of the proceedings. Feder consistently eluded the press corps and photographers camped at the building’s front and rear entrances. He slipped in and out of the building at lightning speed and surrounded himself with associates—definitely not acting as a “bodyguard,” he stressed—who helped distract the newspapermen from the camera-shy gangster.

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(Right: OPP Inspector E.D.L Hammond examines bird cage gambling equipment after Brown Derby raid, from the Star [June 16, 1938].)

Cases against the found-ins were quickly discharged, with each assessed a fine of $15 and costs. When the found-ins filed out, and Feder and the 12 others charged with keeping a common betting house and keeping a common gaming house entered, court officials struggled to find them seats in the crowded courtroom. Crown Attorney James W. McFadden, a staunch foe of organized gambling who had crossed paths with Feder before as prosecutor at his race-fixing trial, opened his case with Oldfield on the stand. Over two and a half hours, the OPP officer recounted his visits to the Brown Derby and his observations of the duties performed by the employees now on trial. McFadden presented over 80 pieces of gambling equipment as well as dice, cards, and other paraphernalia, leading one reporter to assert “[t]he courtroom resembled a gaming room. Exhibit by exhibit, Oldfield and Priest testified to each item’s use and which of the defendants operated it.

Based on newspaper coverage, the only evidence introduced at trial directly linking Feder to the Brown Derby came through the testimony of private detective Willam Ashwood, who claimed that on May 17 Feder had accepted payment for his $2 bet on the King’s Plate. Labelling the witness “a mercenary informer,” Murphy tore into Ashwood’s credibility. “This man’s whole story is something concocted in his own mind,” he bellowed. “There is no corroboration whatsoever for it…This man is paid by the day for the work he does, and the better his report the more pay he receives.”

Murphy objected to the admission of the contents of the safety deposit box as evidence. “How can money found in a private box be evidence against gambling on the highway?” he asked, but was overruled from the bench. He also questioned the inclusion of money found by the escape tunnel on land not belonging to the Brown Derby. Ultimately, Murphy succeeded, at trial’s end, in having the money returned to Feder and another individual who formally claimed the sum near the escape tunnel.

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(Left: Star [July 8, 1938].)

Murphy and the defendants seemed resigned to a guilty verdict, but sought to minimize the punishment. Murphy even asked the court to drop charges against most defendants because they “were just minor employees who are trying to make a living.” In rebuttal, however, McFadden pointed out that by law “any one aiding or abetting in the keeping of a disorderly or gaming house was as much at fault as the principals.”

On July 11, in in a Toronto City Hall courtroom—where the trial had relocated due to the uncomfortable summer heat—Murphy made a final plea in advance of Magistrate D. Ross Hossack issuing his sentences. Murphy argued that his clients were the victims of over-zealous policing, and questioned why the Brown Derby had been targeted for police attention while other nearby clubs were left alone. “I am suspicious that this case may have emanated from competition,” Murphy declared courtroom crowded with wives and friends of the accused, as well as eager onlookers. The defence counsel announced his intention of demanding a “full investigation” into the planning of the raid, and the conduct of Inspector Hammond in particular, who he claimed had a relationship with Abe Orpen since investigating the gambler’s 1937 kidnapping. (Murphy’s assertion wasn’t such a far-fetched notion, since rumours persisted, J.V. McAree once wrote, that Orpen believed the police protection he paid for included “protection from too much competition.” Although Abe Orpen had died after a long illness in September 1937, his National Sporting Club operations continued to be run by his son, Fred).

Murphy insisted that the judge’s verdict be consistent with earlier suburban gambling raids, which had always led only to fines, never imprisonment. Magistrate Hossack’s solution, however, was to issue fines and jail time. Feder and Lieberman, as the leaders, were given $200 fines and four months imprisonment for keeping a common betting house, with four months running concurrently for keeping a common gaming house. The remainder—apart from two acquitted for having no involvement in betting or gaming—each received $100 to $200 in fines and one to three months in jail. Although he maintained a cool exterior, dressed sharply in a tailored double-breasted suit with white shirt and mottled tie, Feder nervously fingered his grey fedora as the verdict was read. “Feder took the penalty calmly,” a Star man recorded, “Lieberman winced slightly.”

Star (July 11, 1938)

Star (July 11, 1938)

Explaining his verdict, Hossack pointed to the overwhelming evidence presented by the crown that the Brown Derby was one of the biggest betting and gaming houses in the province. “This place was so operated as to be a public menace and a danger,” he proclaimed, referencing the guns found on the premises. “It must not be regarded lightly.” That the sentences were stiffer than those previously received by gentiles like Orpen and Beasley, Bossin had suggested, might have been due to systemic anti-Semitism. Just as likely, the harsher penalties reflected a stricter approach to suppressing illegal gambling by authorities. Attorney-General Conant, whose office had been keenly interested in the raid and trial, hailed the sentences as “entirely just and proper under the circumstances and on the facts.”

When the defendants were trundled out of the courtroom in police custody, most went north of the city to serve their sentences at the jail farm at Langstaff. When Murphy filed notice of appeal, Feder was freed on $10,000 bond. However, nearly a month later, on August 9, he suddenly dropped his appeal and surrendered to police to begin serving his four-month term at Mimico Reformatory. Feder’s sudden change of heart, Bossin asserts, was prompted by a deal with the prosecution to have all charges dropped against his brother, Philip, who had been on the lam since the night of the raid. Manny, who didn’t yet have any children with his wife Frances, didn’t want Philip serving time away from his wife Eva and their small children.

After serving his sentence, Feder never reopened the Brown Derby. Large portions of Humber Bay—including entire streets and much of the north side of Lake Shore Road where the Brown Derby had stood—were razed to facilitate the completion of the new limited access highway, Queen Elizabeth Way, which opened to traffic in the late 1930s.

Feder was soon back in business with the Combine Club, a grander, purpose-built gambling palace on The Queensway, located near its present-day intersection with East Mall. By that time, however, new voices from behind the church pulpit, on the editorial page, and within the legislature, were growing louder in condemning gangsters and professional gamblers of Feder’s ilk. As the vocal critics exerted pressure on local politicians and police and found willing allies in men like Scott and Hammond, the conditions were being set for a showdown with Feder.

Thanks to Denise Harris, Chief Historian of the Etobicoke Historical Society for additional sources and suggestions.

Sources consulted: Helen Boritch and John Hagan, “Crime and the Changing Forms of Class Control: Policing Public Order in ‘Toronto the Good,’ 1859-1955,” in Social Forces Vol. 66, No. 2 (December 1987); Bob Bossin, Davy The Punk: A Story of Bookies, Toronto the Good, the Mob, and My Dad (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2014); Jim Coleman, A Hoofprint On My Heart (McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1971); Jim Coleman, “Ten Bucks on the Nose, Joe,” Maclean’s (April 15, 1944); Trent Frayne, “Vice Squad,” Maclean’s (June 1, 1948); Robert A. Given, Etobicoke Remembered (Pro Familia Publishing, 2007); Dahn D. Higley, OPP: The History of the Ontario Provincial Police Force (The Queen’s Printer, 1984); Adam Howell and Denise Harris, “Etobicoke: Township of Vice,” The Aldernews (March 2013); Sammy Luftspring, with Brian Swarbick, Call Me Sammy (Prentice-Hall of Canada, Ltd., 1975); Suzanne Morton, At Odds: Gambling and Canadians 1919-1969 (University of Toronto Press, 2003); Stephen Schneider, Iced: The Story of Organized Crime in Canada (John Wiley & Sons, 2009); Jocko Thomas, From Police Headquarters: True Tales from the Big City Crime Beat (Stoddart, 1990); and articles from the Ottawa Citizen; the Toronto Globe, the Toronto Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star.

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

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