Toronto is one of the most exciting cities on earth – but as Canadians we don’t tend to beat our own drum.
These are interesting stories from Toronto’s recent past. Many seniors will remember the people, places and events that we will visit and each presentation is an entertaining and thought-provoking walk down memory lane.
Ernest D. Banting and Life in Weston 1921-1973
Ernest D. “Doc” Banting (1892-1973) was a leading citizen of Weston, a typical small town on the outskirts of Toronto. We’ll follow Ernest around town from the 1920s to the 1970s and look at some of his interests – small town sports, municipal politics, the Orange Order, the effects of the Depression, the birth of Canada’s unemployment system, service clubs like the Lions and, last but not least, temperance. And there’s a surprise at the end – a startling, unexpected connection that brings us right to the present day. Vividly recreating a community from a vanished era, this presentation draws Richard Jordan’s newly-published book, Ernest D. Banting and Life in Weston 1921-1973.
The photo shows Ernest D. Banting, a distant cousin to Dr. Frederick Banting, discoverer of Insulin. He was a salesman, a politician … and a bit of a rogue. In a career that spanned five decades in the Town of Weston, Ernest was a shameless self-promoter and home-town booster.
Chapman and Oxley – Toronto’s Forgotten Architects
Toronto architect Alfred H. Chapman and engineer James Morrow Oxley formed a partnership in 1919 and in the next twenty years went on to design and build some of Toronto’s most iconic buildings. Yet today they are virtually unknown. We will look at the career of these artistic overachievers through vintage pictures of their many buildings. As we stroll down the streets of yesterday’s Toronto, we will be sure to encounter plenty of pleasant memories of Sunnyside, and the CNE, among many other interesting places.
The photo shows one of Chapman and Oxley’s most famous Toronto structures, the Princes’ Gates at the CNE. The pair also designed dozens of others buildings, including the Royal Ontario Museum, the Harbour Commission Building, the Runnymede Theatre, the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion and Palais Royale, the Ontario Government building at the CNE, and Knox College at the U of T. A number of their other structures have since been demolished such as the old Toronto Star Building and Maple Leaf (baseball) Stadium.
October 15, 1954 was the day that Toronto faced its greatest natural disaster, a massive hurricane that caused severe flooding and killed 81 people in Southern Ontario. We will look at how a hurricane forms, what Toronto was like in 1954 and then recall tales of tragedy, heroism and survival on a day that many people are still able to vividly recall today. We’ll also look at the strong measures that have been taken since Hurricane Hazel to prevent a recurrence of the disaster.
The photo shows some Etobicoke residents on the roof of their house. Record rainfalls from Hurricane Hazel caused rivers to rise and sent a 20’ wall of water roaring down the Humber River leaving death and destruction in its wake.
Marilyn Bell and Marathon Swims Across Lake Ontario
In 1954 the Toronto Telegram and the CNE sponsored Florence Chadwick, a famous California marathon swimmer, to come to Toronto and attempt to be the first person to swim across Lake Ontario. She failed, but Marilyn Bell, an unknown Toronto teenager, entered the water at the same time as Chadwick and against all odds managed to complete the feat. Toronto was enthralled with the story of this plucky teen, but she wasn’t the last to conquer the cold waters of the lake. Kim Lumsdon, Cindy Nicholas and Vicki Keith are among the more than 60 others who have completed the swim. We’ll talk about the whole history of CNE marathon swims as well.
The photo shows the headlines in the Toronto Daily Star that greeted Marilyn Bell after her amazing feat of being the first person to swim across Lake Ontario. She went on to conquer the English Channel among other challenges before retiring.
Sir Henry Pellatt – The Man Who Built and Lost Casa Loma
Sir Henry Pellatt (1859-1939) was a Toronto financier and soldier who became fabulously wealthy. He built Canada’s largest private home, which he called Casa Loma. At the height of his fame, he took a 640-man regiment to England for three months of training completely at his own expense. But as quickly as he rose, his empire came tumbling down and Sir Henry died a pauper in a rented room at the Mimico home of his former chauffeur. This is a story of old Toronto told with vintage photographs and some stunning colour pictures of the present-day castle.
The photo shows financier Sir Henry Pellatt, who became commanding officer of the Queen’s Own Rifles and lived in the magnificent Casa Loma. Built in an era when no luxury was out of reach, the “castle on the hill” became a Toronto landmark, but it would be seized by the City of Toronto when Sir Henry couldn’t pay his property taxes.
The Boyd Gang: Toronto’s Notorious Bank Robbers
Edwin Alonzo Boyd, born and raised in Toronto, had a problem with authority. The son of a policeman, he gave up a job driving a TTC streetcar to rob banks in the early 1950s. Caught and sent to the Don Jail, he escaped with a pair of robbers and his gang became the scourge of Canada. They pulled off Toronto’s largest bank robbery and lived a wild life on the run. Caught a second time, they escaped from the Don Jail again before they were finally brought to justice.
The Toronto Daily Star headline was published after the Boyd Gang made their second daring escape from the Don Jail, touching off the biggest manhunt in Canadian history. The Gang was eventually recaptured and brought to face a harsh justice. Two of its members, Lennie Jackson and Steve Suchan, were hung at the Don Jail for the murder of a Toronto Police detective.
Timothy Eaton and His Department Store
Timothy Eaton was a canny Scots-Irish Methodist who believed that the Lord would reward those who worked hard. Born in Ballymena, Ireland, Eaton served an apprenticeship with a local merchant before immigrating to Canada in the 1850s. He honed his craft in small-town Ontario then, starting in 1869, his tiny shop at Queen and Yonge would expand exponentially, leaving all his Toronto competitors in the dust. This presentation tells the story of Timothy Eaton’s life, what he did that made him so successful and how the subsequent generations of the Eaton family succeeded – and ultimately failed – in keeping the Eaton legacy alive in the 20th Century.
Timothy Eaton’s first Toronto store was this tiny shop on the southwest corner of Queen and Yonge. Less than 15 years later he would buy and demolish a large building just north of Queen Street to build his iconic store. His business would expand exponentially, right across Canada, leaving all his Toronto competitors, including the rival Simpson’s department store, in the dust.
Lady Flora Eaton and Canada’s ‘Royal Family’
Flora McCrae (1880-1970) from Omemee, near Peterborough Ontario, was a failed student nurse when she met and married John (later Sir John) Craig Eaton, the son and heir of department store magnate Timothy Eaton. Together they raised a family but tragically, Lady Flora became a widow at a very young age. Undaunted, she turned herself into the power behind the throne at Eaton’s, creating superb in-store restaurants, assisting Eaton employee organizations as well as many charities and eventually promoting her son, John David Eaton, to the company presidency. During her lifetime the Eaton family was regarded by many as Canada’s “Royal Family”. This is a story of tragedy and achievement, untold wealth and the glamour of a bygone age.
The photo shows Lady Flora Eaton and her son John David Eaton at the Hollywood-like opening of Eaton’s College Street store in 1930. She was a small-town girl who successfully re-invented herself several times to fill the complex roles that came with her marriage to Eaton department store heir John Craig Eaton. (Photo courtesy of the Archives of Ontario.)