Zoom live presentations
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I never charge HST.
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Canadian English, Eh? This is a light-hearted and fully illustrated talk. Canadian English is different from American and British English but exactly how does it differ? In an interactive session, I’ll ask the residents to identify some common items and then reveal the names they are known by in the United States. We’ll also look at how our kids are changing the language we speak.
Great Canadian Inventions: I look at four things that were developed by Canadians – the Robertson (square head) screw, Pablum infant cereal, the McIntosh apple and Insulin. Each one is something of a story of struggle and a uniquely Canadian triumph. The sometimes controversial personalities behind the discoveries are as interesting as the things they produced.
Murder in the Family Tree: This is a real-life detective story about how I investigated two unrelated violent deaths I found in my family tree. How can a genealogist use records from 1870s Ontario to throw new light on long forgotten events? And what family secrets might be revealed?
The Woman Who Reinvented Herself: – The daughter of one of the families featured in the above presentation ran away from her abusive husband in the early 1900s and became a homesteader on the Canadian Prairies with another man. This is a look at the role of women 100 years ago and how the rules could sometimes be bent a little. (Coming Summer/Fall 2023.)
Chapman and Oxley – Toronto’s Forgotten Architects: Virtually unknown today, Chapman and Oxley built some of Toronto’s most iconic buildings – The Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario Building and Princes’ Gates at the CNE, the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion and Palais Royale as well as Maple Leaf (baseball) Stadium at the foot of Bathurst Street. This is a journey around the streets of Toronto via vintage photos that are sure to bring back great memories.
Timothy Eaton and His Department Store: Timothy Eaton, an Irish immigrant, arrived in Toronto in the 1860s and opened a small retail store that grew into a Canadian institution. Eaton’s department stores and the Eaton’s catalogue spread the brand from coast to coast. Thousands were employed in his stores and manufacturing facilities. His descendants carried on the tradition but couldn’t save the store from going into bankruptcy in 1999.
Lady Eaton and Canada’s “Royal Family”: Farm girl Flora McCrae was a failed student nurse when she met and married John Craig Eaton, the heir to the Eaton department store fortune. She became Lady Eaton and then, all too soon, was widowed. With her children, she lived a fabulous life of wealth and transformed herself into a power behind the scenes at Eaton’s, designing restaurants and successfully promoting her son John David Eaton to the company presidency. (Coming Summer/Fall 2023.)
The Boyd Gang: Toronto’s Notorious Bank Robbers: Many of your residents will remember Edwin Alonzo Boyd, a man who had lifelong problems with authority. Boyd and his gang pulled off some of the city’s most daring armed robberies of the early 1950s. And they escaped from the Don Jail not once but twice! This is the story of how a group of “ordinary” men decided to rob banks, the wild life they led, and how they eventually faced harsh justice.
Hurricane Hazel: 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 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 of your residents will still be able to vividly recall.
Marathon Swims Across Lake Ontario: In 1954 the Toronto Telegram sponsored a famous American marathon swimmer to attempt to be the first person to swim across Lake Ontario. She failed, but Marilyn Bell, an unknown Toronto teenager, managed to complete the feat and captured the heart of the city. We’ll talk about the whole history of CNE marathon swims and some of the other people who conquered the lake, like Vicki Keith.
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 at his own expense. But as quickly as it rose, his empire came tumbling down and Sir Henry died a pauper in a rented room at the 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.
Ernie Banting and the Town of Weston in the 1920s and 30s: Ernie Banting was a salesman (and a bit of a huckster) but he had a profound impact on the Town of Weston. We’ll follow Ernie’s career in politics and local sports and how he led the community’s response to the Great Depression through a Workingmen’s Club that gave its members – and the whole town – hope. There’ll be a surprise present-day twist to this tale as well. (Coming Summer/Fall 2023.)
The Kingsway: One of Canada’s premier neighbourhoods, The Kingsway was the vision of one man, Robert Home Smith. A lawyer by training but a natural-born town planner, Home Smith took 3,100 acres of ordinary Etobicoke farmland and turned it into an elegant series of subdivisions that were deemed “A bit of England far from England”. Centered on the Old Mill, they offered not only a new vision of town planning but of upper middle class life in Toronto.
Etobicoke’s Historic Lakeshore: Etobicoke’s three lakeshore communities, Mimico, New Toronto and Long Branch, share many things, including the streetcars of Lakeshore Boulevard West and the beautiful shores of Lake Ontario, but they have very different histories. Mimico is an older town, once the home of palatial estates. New Toronto had its start as a gritty industrial suburb. And Long Branch began as a gated, upper class cottage community and resort in Victorian times.
The Villages of Dundas Street: Dundas Street is Ontario’s oldest road and it runs through the centre of two of Etobicoke’s most historic communities – Lambton Mills, and Islington. Come and take a pleasant journey with us (via vintage photographs) as we travel along this road a hundred years ago and meet the people who once lived there. You may be surprised to find how many of the historic landmarks still exist today.
Historic Brampton: Brampton started as a tiny backwoods settlement known as Buffy’s Corners, named after a popular tavern. Located far from the more prosperous communities along Lake Ontario and Dundas Street, Brampton didn’t become an important regional centre until the arrival of the railway in the 1850s. Then commerce and industry blossomed and Brampton became known as “Flowertown” due to its booming greenhouse and nursery business.
The Mighty Humber: This is a tour (via vintage photographs) circling the Humber River between Dundas Street and Bloor. We will visit four mills, Toronto’s first shipyard, a Seneca village and some colourful taverns among other sites. We’ll talk about the millers’ two great enemies, fire and flood, as well as the massive destruction on the river caused by Hurricane Hazel in 1954. We’ll also visit the exclusive Kingsway and Baby Point neighbourhoods.
Historic Cooksville: Located at the intersection of Dundas and Hurontario Streets, Cooksville has been at the centre of much of Mississauga’s history. A stage-coach stop on the Dundas highway, the village became home to Ontario’s first vineyards and first winery. Natural gas was discovered here more than 100 years ago and supplied, via pipeline, to Hamilton. The Cooksville brickyards operated for 90 years. Then, the polluted brickyard site was successfully remediated to permit the construction of housing and beautiful parks.
Historic Clarkson: Founded in 1808 and named after a family of storekeepers, the village of Clarkson is located in south west Mississauga. Surrounded by fertile farmland, Clarkson became “The Strawberry Capital of Ontario” in Victorian times. Today the village of Clarkson is home to both of the City of Mississauga’s historic museums – the Bradley Museum (showing pioneer life) and Benares house (the inspiration for Canadian author Mazo de la Roche’s famous Whiteoaks of Jalna series of novels). We will visit them both on our tour.
Historic Islington: Dundas Street runs through the centre of much of Etobicoke’s history and it serves as the main street of Islington. For over 100 years Islington was the seat of Etobicoke’s municipal government. Come and hear tales of the loyal Thomas Montgomery of Montgomery’s Inn and World War 1 hero Col. J.E.L. Streight. It’s surprising how much of this historic community still exists today.
A Walk on the Beach … With Mergansers: Mergansers are a common type of duck found on the shores of Georgian Bay. You only see the males in the spring and then it’s up to the females to raise their brood of up to ten ducklings. I’ve got plenty of pictures of the young who start life riding on their mother’s back and learn how to be master fish catchers, running on top of the water and diving deep.
A Walk on the Beach … With Sandpipers: Sandpipers can often be spotted running along the beach, darting in and out of the waves. It’s hard to believe that such a tiny bird migrates across continents, but many sandpipers spend their summers on Hudson’s Bay and their winters on the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists have recently discovered that some sandpiper species are polyandrous. That means a single female mates with as many as five males, and leaves them to tend the nest and raise the young!
A Walk on the Beach … With Seagulls: A seagull is a seagull is a seagull … or is it? We walk along beautiful Bluewater Beach on Georgian Bay and talk about four different types of gulls that can be found there – ranging from the tiny, elegant Bonaparte’s Gull to the massive Great Black-Backed Gull which has a 6’ wingspan. I show lots of pictures and I even do a few imitations, like one of an aggressive Herring Gull looking for his lunch!
Adventures in Japan – Japan is a different world. It’s thoroughly modern and yet it’s also incredibly ancient. In October 2019, my wife and I went on a food tour that took us to some of Japan’s largest cities and smallest places including a Buddhist monastery. Then we went on a walking tour along the ancient Nakasendo Trail, staying in traditional Japanese inns known as Ryokans. This is a story of only some of the things we learned about in Japan from bullet trains to hot spring baths to high-tech toilets.
Shanghai – Old and New: We start with the history and geography of the world’s second largest city and then go on three adventures – looking at an old-style neighbourhood, riding the ultra-modern MagLev train at 431 km per hour and shopping in a Chinese street market.
Driving Iceland’s Ring Road: Iceland’s Route 1, circles the North Atlantic island nation and offers some of the best scenery in the world – beautiful blue fjords, snow-capped mountains and a variety of volcanic landforms. We will experience an epic week-long drive around the Ring Road with lots of spectacular photos and interesting stories!
The Netherlands: It’s said that the Lord made the whole world … with one exception. The Dutch made the Netherlands, reclaiming much of the land from the sea. We see how the Dutch actually create new land, then we’ll visit Amsterdam and a number of other picturesque towns, complete with visits to famous galleries to see paintings by Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Vermeer.
The West Coast of Ireland: Ireland is the Emerald Isle and no place in Ireland is more beautiful and unspoiled than the West Coast. We’ll briefly look at the history and geography of this famous land before talking an adventurous drive to see ancient castles, modern towns and the highest cliffs in Europe as well as miles and miles of spectacular scenery.
Beijing and Xian (The Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Warriors): My wife and I travelled extensively through China in 2016. Beijing, the capital, is almost 3,000 years old but it’s is also one of the world’s most modern cities. Next we visit the Great Wall of China, then it’s on to Xi’an, the home of the Terracotta Warriors, a collection of more than 8,000 life-size figures buried with the first Emperor of China in 210 BC and rediscovered in 1974 by a farmer digging a well.
Iceland in the Winter: In 2017, my wife and I travelled to the remote highlands of central Iceland to cross country ski in a pristine winter wilderness. We skied past smoking thermal springs and bathed outdoors in hot pots. Some of us even climbed a mountain on skis! There are lots of great pictures and some true real-life adventures. (Coming in 2023.)
Walking Hadrian’s Wall: I will start by talking about how and why the Romans came to Britain, and why they built their wall across the island from sea to sea. Then we’ll undertake an epic 84 mile journey on foot along its entire length with lots of pictures of spectacular scenery. (My wife and I just completed this journey last June.)
Specialty and Seasonal
Three Soldiers from Islington and the Origins of Remembrance Day: This is the story of three men with strong ties to the village of Islington who went to war. The Rev. R.W.E. Greene fought in the 1866 Fenian invasion and was later immortalized by humourist Stephen Leacock. Col. J.E.L. Streight fought the Boers, witnessed the first German poison gas attack in World War 1 and became a Member of Parliament. Major Stewart B. East with the 48th Highlanders in Italy became the most decorated Canadian padre in World War 2. All three men went on to become pillars of the Islington community.
Christmas and New Year Traditions: This presentation is compiled from the holiday columns I wrote for the Toronto Star. It explores how our pioneers celebrated the holidays, the origin of the Christmas tree and Scottish New Year “first foot” customs among many others from around the world. The origins of Christmas cards, Santa Claus and Boxing Day are also covered. It always brings back warm memories for the residents.
The Secret History of Santa Claus: St. Nicholas was a real-life Greek bishop who lived on the coast of Turkey in the Second Century AD. How in the world did he evolve into the “Jolly Old Elf” who flies around the globe on Christmas Eve, in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, delivering gifts to deserving children? We’ll look at Father Christmas, pagan customs that became Christian and the commercialization of our folk traditions in this absorbing presentation.