Thursday, September 30, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
|College and Spadina in 1902|
Thursday, September 23, 2010
|The SS Noronic burns|
Back in the late-1800 and early-1900s, the Great Lakes were filled with luxury liners. The decadent cruise ships carried hundreds of passengers from both sides of the border, transporting them across the lakes in style. They were, for nearly a century, a major industry and a popular way to take a vacation. According to one historian, “At one time there were more people asleep on boats on the Great Lakes than on any ocean in the world.”
Sadly, by 2:30 am, when the fire started, most of them were back on board, asleep in bed. The smoke was first spotted by a passenger who tracked the source back to a locked linen closet. And by the time he alerted one of the ship's stewards, it was already too late. When they opened the door, the fire spread. And when they tried to put it out with a fire hose, the hose didn't work. Neither did any of the others. Even worse, the ship's hallways were lined with gorgeous wood paneling, which, for decades, had been carefully polished with lemon oil. It was the perfect fuel for the fire. Meanwhile, stairwells acted like chimneys, funneling oxygen to the flames. They spread. Fast. Eight minutes later, when the ship's whistle jammed while issuing a distress signal and let loose with one piercing, endless shriek, half the ship was already on fire. Within minutes, the rest of the Noronic would be in flames too. Survivors later said the whole thing went up like the head of a match.
There are lots of amazing photos of the Noronic. There are shots of what the interior looked liked before the fire here and here. Here's the dining room before and after. And a bunch from the Cleveland Plain Dealer: of firemen fighting the fire here and here, the charred wreckage here and a diver searching for bodies in the ship's lower decks here. Also, the Horticultural Building's temporary morgue is here. There are neat photos of that big 1913 storm, too: a big wave in Detroit here, a streetcar snowed under in Cleveland here, more snowy Cleveland here and here, and bodies washing up in Goderich here. You can read more about the Noronic disaster in a couple of interesting articles from the Walkerville Times and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. And there's a ten minute CBC Radio segment in their archives, looking back on the disaster from 1977. There's a memorial to the victims in Mount Pleasant Cemetery and a plaque erected near where it happened, which is now right by the spot where the island ferry docks. You can also see the ship's whistle on display at the Marine Museum on the waterfront near Ontario Place.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
|Toronto Harbour, 1793|
In the painting you can also see the masts of the ships that had brought the men there, but I don't really have anything interesting to say about them at the moment.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
There, Robbie Ross would soon become one of Britain's most scandalous and controversial figures. He was gay and he didn't hide it, a fact that didn't go over very well in Victorian England, where they were busy passing bigoted laws against such things. The harassment started early—he was bullied in school—and would continue throughout his life: he would be threatened with jail time, dragged into court, demonized in the press and eventually forced to leave the country altogether. During the First World War, an MP even wrote a pair of articles—one of them called "The Cult of the Clitoris", if you can believe it—accusing Ross of being part of a conspiracy of 47,000 treacherous "perverts" helping the Germans to "exterminat[e] the manhood of Britain" by turning Britons gay.
It didn't help, of course, that Ross happened to be sleeping with the most famous gay man in the entire British Empire.
Or the most famous bisexual man, anyway. Oscar Wilde was a husband and a father when when he first met the 17 year-old Ross. And it seems that up to that point, the writer really had been attracted to his wife. But she was pregnant with their second child in 1886, and as she underwent the whole growing-another-person-inside-your-own-person thing, Wilde got seriously turned off. Disgusted even. And there was the young, attractive Ross, "determined to seduce Wilde" according to at least one biographer and already experienced from his time in boarding school. The two hooked up. Ross moved in. And the pair would remain close for the rest of their lives.
The Canadian stood by Wilde even when things started to go sour. And they did so pretty quickly once the author began an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. Douglas led Wilde into the seedy Victorian underground of gay prostitutes and brothels. And it was Douglas' screwed up relationship with his crazyass homophobic bully of a father (the oh-so-ironically-titled Marquess of Queensbury), which eventually landed Wilde in jail. When Queensbury left Wilde a poorly-spelled calling card denouncing him as a "somdomite", Wilde sued Queensbury for libel. But when it turned out there was plenty of evidence against him, he was forced to drop the case. In the aftermath, Ross begged Wilde to flee, but the author ignored him, was arrested, tried and eventually convicted of sodomy and gross indecency.
When Wilde got out after two long, miserable years in prison, Ross was waiting for him with a house in France. And though Wilde would forgive Douglas for his role and see him on and off over the next few years, it was Ross who was with him when he died. And it was Ross who took care of his affairs after his death, securing his legacy by buying back the rights to his works—which the author had been forced to sell during his trial—and stamping out the fake porn which was being published under his name.
For his part, Douglas went off the rails. When he wasn't accusing Winston Churchill of playing a role in an imaginary Jewish plot to assassinate the Secretary of War, he was denouncing homosexuality, attacking Ross, testifying against him in court and declaring that Oscar Wilde was "the greatest force for evil that has appeared in Europe during the last three hundred and fifty years".
As a touching postscript, Robbie Ross' ashes are now at rest inside Oscar Wilde's tomb. And this story isn't the only connection Toronto has to Wilde. He came to town in 1882 as part of a year-long tour of North America that helped cement his growing fame. He lectured at the Grand Opera House on Adelaide and the old pavilion at Allan Gardens, hated all the ads painted on our buildings, loved University College at U of T, and made fun of our yellow bricks. blogTO has got more about that visit in an article over here.
Friday, September 10, 2010
|Robert De Niro|
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Sunday, September 5, 2010
|Billy Bishop and Margaret Burden, 1917|