Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I'm Head Over Heels In Love With This Photo From The Ex in 1906

I really am. I just love it. Especially if you look close — click here and then on the photo that pops up to make it full-sized and scroll around looking at the expressions on the faces of these people from 190freaking6. Just amazing.

They're sitting on a spot in the Exhibition Grounds that's now probably actually just a littttle bit outside the Exhibition Grounds, pretty much where Lake Shore Boulevard is now. Behind them, in a sliver on the left-hand side of the photo, you can see just a bit of the Manufacturer's Building. It was built a few years earlier and would burned down in the 1960s. They built the modernist Better Living Building to replace it. It's still there today.

There's a bit of interesting history related to monument behind them, too. It was built by the Independent Order of Foresters, a fraternal organization (kind of a little like the Masons) with roots going all the way back to the royal English forests of the 1300s, when people used to band together for safety. The Foresters spread to Canada thanks to Oronhyatekha — a Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, near Brantford, who was the first indigenous student at Oxford, the second indigenous doctor in Canada, a member of our national rifle team and the very first indigenous member the Foresters ever had. A bunch of the indigenous artifacts at the ROM come from his collection; he'd started a museum of his own in the Foresters Temple at Bay & Richmond. He died about six months after this photo was taken. And he'll totally be getting his own post someday.

 I came across this photo here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Circus Riot

Toronto in the 1850s, with edge of the Fair Green bottom-centre

These weren't the kind of clowns you want to mess with. They were, by all accounts, a pretty rough crew. They were in town for just a couple of days — part of a touring show from the U.S. called S.B. Howes' Star Troupe Menagerie & Circus. Along with the clowns, there were acrobats and equestrian trick riders and a bunch of exotic animals: big cats, elephants, even a giraffe. The circus had already performed a few sold out shows that day — it was a rare big draw in a city that was just starting to come into its own. 

This was the summer of 1855. And Toronto was growing very, very quickly. Forty thousand people lived in the city now — and new immigrants were flooding in all the time. With the very first railroads starting up, the population would double over the next 20 years.

But in a lot of ways, it was still a rough, pioneer town. It would be a long while before we got our reputation for being Toronto The Good. If anything, we were the opposite. There were 68 taverns along Yonge Street — an average of one every 1200 meters between here and Barrie. In the city itself, there were 152 of them. Plus 203 beers shops on top of that. And then, there were the brothels. We had a lot of brothels.

The circus was done for the day and the clowns had the rest of the night off, so they decided to take advantage of the local nightlife. They picked a brothel near the corner of King & Jarvis and settled in to have some fun. But the rest of the night wouldn't go as planned.

It seems the clowns picked the wrong brothel. This one was a hangout for some of the men in a local volunteer fire brigade: The Hook & Ladder Firefighting Company. And these weren't the kind of firemen you wanted to mess with either. In those days, there was no central, public, government-run fire department. When a fire broke out, all the companies who were nearby rushed to the scene with their horse-drawn engines to get there first and call dibs. Just a couple of weeks earlier, the Hook & Ladders had arrived at a fire on Church Street at the same time as another brigade. A fight broke out. As the building burned, the firemen rioted in the street. And when the police showed up, they got pulled into the brawl too. In the end, the firemen were charged with assault. And the battle became known as the Firemen's Riot. The Hook & Ladders were no strangers to violence.

S.B. Howes' Star Troupe Menagerie & Circus
No one seems to agree on exactly how the fight at the brothel got started. Some blame a particularly loudmouthed clown. Some say the clowns cut in line — or knocked the hat off a fireman's head. But this much is clear: that night, the clowns kicked some firefighting ass. At least two of the firemen were seriously injury, dragged out of the brothel to safety as the Hook & Ladder crew retreated. For the rest of the night, the clowns could drink and screw in peace.

But it wasn't over yet. Those firemen had a lot of friends. In those days, Toronto was still pretty much entirely run by a small group of Protestant, Tory elites. They were all members of the Orange Order, hung out together at the Orange Lodge, and made sure that other Orangemen got all the important jobs in the city. The police were pretty much all Orangemen. And the firefighters were too. Usually, they focused on beating up Catholics. But they were willing to make an occasional exception.

The day after the fight at the brothel — a Friday the 13th, no less — a crowd began to gather around S.B. Howes' Star Troupe Menagerie & Circus. An angry, Orange crowd. The troupe had pitched their tents at the Fair Green, a big grassy space on the waterfront, just a few blocks east of the St. Lawrence Market. (Now, it's the south-east corner of Front & Berkeley, near the Toronto Sun building.) The farmers and merchants who had set up stalls nearby were told to clear out. There was trouble brewing.

They say word reached the police before violence broke out. But of course the Chief of Police, Samuel Sherwood, was an Orangeman. That's how he got to be Chief of Police. In fact, years earlier he'd helped to organize a conservative Tory attack on a liberal Reform Party parade. One of the Reformers had been shot and killed. So when Chief Sherwood heard about the trouble down at the Fair Green, he dragged his feet for as long as he could. And then, eventually, he sent a few men to check it out.

By the time they got there, it had started. People were throwing stones. And while the circus performers and the carnies were apparently able to hold the mob off for a while, it couldn't last. Eventually, the crowd overwhelmed them. And when the Hook & Ladders arrived, all hell broke loose. They stormed the circus with pikes and axes, overturned wagons, pulled down the tents and the Big Top and set them on fire. They beat clowns to a pulp. Circus folk ran for their lives. Some dived into the lake for safety. It was mayhem.

It took the Mayor to settle things down. He came to the Fair Green in person, kept a firemen from killing a clown with an axe by grabbing it out his hands, and called in the militia to take control of the situation. Once things had quieted down, the circus performers came back for their belongings and then ran like hell.

Council's inquest into the Circus Riot
The police had done pretty much nothing. They just watched. Even Chief Sherwood himself had eventually shown up, but could only claim to have stopped the rioters from setting fire to the cages of the animals. Of the 17 people who were charged in the riot, only one was ever convicted. All of the police who were at the scene claimed that they mysteriously couldn't remember any of the Orangemen who had been there. Just like they had a few weeks earlier, after the Fireman's Riot on Church.

That, as far as most people were concerned, was bullshit. And it would keep on coming. A few months later, there was another Protestant vs. Catholic riot — and Chief Sherwood's memory was again suspiciously fuzzy as far as Orangemen were concerned. A few months after that, he was under fire again after freeing a suspect who had been accused of robbing a bank.

But by then, there had been another mayoral election. And for the first time in more than 20 years — since William Lyon Mackenzie's rebellion — a liberal Reform Party candidate had won. City council called for deep reforms to the way Toronto's police force was run. The government of Canada West (essentially what they called Ontario back then) agreed. An inquest was launched, and in the end, the whole old system was overthrown. Every single police officer in the city was fired and a new force was created from scratch. Half of the old constables would end up being re-hired and it took nearly 100 years before the Orange stranglehold on power in Toronto was finally broken. But the foundations of our current, modern police force had finally been laid.

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You can read more about the riot and the history of the police here. And the riot in general here. They're both awesome sources.

I got Toronto's tavern stats from this piece, about a rivalry between Tory and Reform-minded doctors (most notably John Rolph, who'd played a huge role in Mackenzie's rebellion). It's a pretty neat read for anyone interested in the politics of medicine in the city in the 1800s (which I'm sure you all are).

There's a list of Toronto riots thanks to Google Books here.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jane Jacobs On The Importance Of Old Buildings

Jane Jacobs in NYC, 1961
I'm finally reading a Jane Jacobs book for the first time. It's her big one: The Death and Life of Great American Cities. They say it's one of the giant landmarks in the history of urban planning. She wrote it back in 1961, overturning a lot of old conventional planning ideas — like, say, that demolishing an entire residential neighbourhood to start from scratch is a great idea. She spent a lot of her time fighting to save communities from being turned into housing projects or expressways — first in New York City and then here. She moved to Toronto in '68 — in part because we're awesome and in part because she was worried about her sons getting Drafted into the Vietnam War. She arrived in T.O. just in time to help lead the famous fight against the Spadina Expressway, which would have leveled huge swaths of the Annex and Chinatown.

At one point in the book, she lays out the four conditions she thinks are necessary for a diverse and thriving neighbourhood. Essentially: short blocks, mixed use, a dense enough population and a mixture of old and new buildings. She spends a whole chapter explaining each one, but here's a short passage about old buildings that particularly stuck me:

"If you look about, you will see that only operations that are well established, high-turnover, standardized or heavily subsidized can afford, commonly, to carry the costs of new construction. Chain stores, chain restaurants and banks go into new construction. But neighbourhood bars, foreign restaurants and pawn shops go into older buildings. Supermarkets and shoe stores often go into new buildings, good bookstores and antique dealers seldom do. Well-subsidized opera and art museums often go into new buildings. But the unformalized feeders of the arts—studios, galleries, stores for musical instruments and arts supplies, backrooms where the low earning power of a seat and a table can absorb uneconomic discussions—these go into old buildings. Perhaps more significant, hundreds of ordinary enterprises, necessary to the safety and public life of streets and neighborhoods, and appreciated for their convenience and personal quality, can make out successfully in old buildings, but are inexorably slain by the high overhead of new construction.

"As for really new ideas of any kind—no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be—there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings."

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You can buy The Death and Life of Great Americans Cities here. Or borrow it from the Toronto Public Library here. Or read more samples from it on Google Books here.

And you can learn a little more about the Spadina Expressway in Agatha Barc's post for blogTO here.