The McCormick Family and the Pill

The Pill turns 55 this year and it has changed the lives of women across the globe.  The story of the creation of the pill is an interesting one that involves eugenics, a devout Catholic who was trying to use science to help women who couldn’t conceive, and one very rich and forward-thinking woman.  This woman inherited most of her fortune from Stanley McCormick – the brother of Mary, after whom our little park and community centre are named.


stanleymccormickStanley McCormick
 was the youngest of 7 children, the “sensitive” child of Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical reaper.  Stanley graduated with honours from Princeton University and belonged to the Varsity tennis team. He was attracted to the arts and hoped to become an artist but in the end, being good with numbers, Stanley eventually entered the family business.  Throughout his life, he suffered from indecision, stress, and what we now know as obsessive compulsive disorder. Stanley kept 6-8 different weights of underwear and every morning he had a hard time deciding which type to wear.  In 1903 in Boston, he met up with his childhood friend Katherine Dexter.

katherinemccormickKatherine Dexter, like Stanley, came from a wealthy family.  Her father was a prominent lawyer in Michigan and died in 1890.  After his death, Katherine and her mother Josephine moved to Boston.  Katherine attended MIT and was the second woman to graduate there, although it took her 8 years to accomplish this because of the hurdles she faced from being a woman.   Katherine was in her senior year in 1903 when she met up with Stanley, who became very attached to her.  He was into socialism at that time and wanted to discuss politics with the left-leaning Katherine. She appreciated his intelligence and his interest in the arts but Stanley proved to be too much for her.  He admitted to being addicted to masturbation and had a leather harness made to restrain him against pleasuring himself at night.

After graduation Katherine escaped to her family’s chateau in Switzerland but on the way Stanley accosted her on the wharf in New York.  He followed her to Switzerland and through his persistence and deep love for her, finally convinced her to marry him.  They honeymooned in Europe for 9 months, but apparently the marriage was never consummated — both mothers disapproved of their union and visited them throughout their trip. Stanley would never come to bed, spending his nights writing letters.  When they did try, Stanley couldn’t make it happen, blaming it on his masterbation habit and on a sexual encounter with a Parisian prostitute he admitted to having had years earlier.

After their honeymoon, Stanley and Katherine lived apart – Stanley in Chicago working at the family reaper business and Katherine in Boston.  In 1906, Stanley had to resign because of his mental illness and he moved in with Katherine.  As his mental state improved Katherine encouraged him to produce an heir.  Stanley turned violent, attacking a dentist, an elevator operator then eventually a German tutor.  Katherine checked Stanley into the McLean Institute in Boston, one of the most famous mental institutions in the United States.  On the admission form under “heredity”, doctors noted “family of nervous temperament, mother eccentric, sister insane”.

It’s at this point that Katherine and the McCormick family began to clash and would continue to disagree for the next 40 years.  Nettie, Stanley’s mother and Anita, his sister believed that it was Katherine who caused Stanley’s insanity and they fought against the treatment Stanley was receiving.  Katherine was devoted, visiting often and writing letters to Stanley.  Adolf Meyer, one of the United States’ top psychiatrists at the time, was brought in to diagnose Stanley. Being hired by the McCormicks, Meyer suggested to Katherine that she should divorce Stanley.  Katherine wouldn’t have any of it, and managed to persuade Anita to move Stanley to the estate Riven Rock, in Montecito, California, the house Stanley originally supervised to be built for his sister Mary.  Stanley lived the rest of his days there, with hired staff and in-house physicians.

Once Stanley was situated in California, Katherine turned to other interests.  In 1909, she joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association, soon becoming the vice-president and treasurer.  Eventually she would help organize, alongside Carrie Chapman Catt, the women’s right to vote in the United States in 1920.  Finally, she became Vice-President of the League of Women Voters.  During this time she met Margaret Sanger – the founder of the modern birth control movement.  Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. in 1916 and the first one staffed by females in New York in 1921.

margaretsangerMargaret Sanger was an influential early feminist who used her writing in support of the new cause for birth control for women.  In 1914 after publishing her newsletter The Woman Rebel, she faced going to jail, so she fled New York to England by the way of Montreal.  Sanger is still a contentious figure today.  While she is held in high regard as a feminist, having saved countless women from performing abortions on themselves, her birth control ideas went hand in hand with the idea of eugenics – selective breeding to improve the human race.  The placement of her clinics in the poorest immigrant and black neighbourhoods has been perceived as a way to control the population of these people.

Almost thirty years after meeting Sanger, Stanley passed away and Katherine gained full control of her inheritance ($10 million from her mother and $35 million from Stanley, 85% of which was taken by inheritance tax). Katherine was able to get in touch with Margaret Sanger again and help to fund birth control.   Sanger put Katherine in touch with Gregory Pincus, a biologist studying infertility.

gregorypincusGregory Pincus was a jewish biologist from New Jersey.  He attended Cornell University and then Harvard. Eventually he became an assistant Professor at Harvard in 1931.  His first breakthrough came in 1934 when he was able to create in-vitro fertilization in rabbits. In 1944 he co-founded the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology to research the relationship between hormones, heart disease, cancer and schizophrenia.  In 1951, Margaret Sanger’s  Planned Parenthood Federation of America had given the the Pincus’ foundation a small grant to conduct hormonal contraceptive research and Pincus and his partner Min Chueh Chang, were thus able to confirm that progesterone could act as an inhibitor to ovulation.  (It was in 1938 that Russell Marker first synthesized progesterone from a Mexican yam, making it much less costly than pulling the hormone from animals).   In 1952 Katherine McCormick met Pincus and increased funding for this research (by 50 times); one year later Pincus and Dr. John Rock began trials of progesterone on humans.

johnrockJohn Rock was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard medical school in 1918.  He  was a Catholic, married with 5 children.  Like Pincus, Rock was a pioneer in in-vitro fertilization as well as sperm freezing, allowing many of his patients the ability to conceive.

The rhythm method was (and still is) regarded by the Catholic Church the only moral from of birth control. In the 1930s Rock founded a clinic to teach this method to clients and he was the only Catholic physician to sign a petition to legalize birth control at this time.  In the 1940s, he taught a curriculum at Harvard which included birth control and also co-wrote a birth control guide in 1949 entitled “Voluntary Parenthood”.

Rock and Pincus began human trials in Puerto Rico in 1954.  Rock was using birth control in an  attempt to make women more fertile.  They would take progesterone and then stop and try to conceive.  The women in the trials had an encouraging 15% fertility rate using this method.  By 1955, Enovid, the first brand name birth control pill was approved by the USFDA as a menstrual regulator and by 1960 it was approved for contraceptive use.  Enovid was the first pill humans took that was not a treatment for illness.  The pill was not available to women in all of the United States until contraception became legal in 1965 and then legal for unmarried women in 1972.  Contraception became legal in Canada in 1971.

Katherine McCormick continued to fund birth control biology throughout the 1960s and donated almost the entire $2 million ($27 million today) it took for research and development.  She funded a residence for 200 women at MIT, and when she died in 1967, she donated $5 million to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, $5 million to the Stanford University School of Medicine for women doctors, and $1 million to Gregory Pincus’ Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology.  Many of the priceless paintings she had bought with Stanley on their honeymoon were donated to the Chicago Institute of Art.

Historically, birth control has been a contentious issue and we don’t know if that will ever change. One fact that everyone can agree upon is that the pill has had a great impact on our society.  The invention of the pill allowed many women to be in sexual relationships without the worry of unwanted pregnancy. The autonomy afforded by the pill contributed to opportunities for women to take on more varied roles than wife and mother.  It’s hard to know how closely tied the sexual revolution of 60s was to the invention of this little pill, created by the many personalities all connected in some way to the McCormick family.

I believe that Katherine’s difficult and strange married life allowed her to devote time and effort to the suffrage movement and birth control.   Could this have happened if she had gotten pregnant with Stanley McCormick’s child?  If Stanley hadn’t suffered such mental illness would he have supported Katherine in her efforts?  While no doubt Gregory and John Rock were well on their way towards the science of the pill, how long would it have taken for the pill to become available for general use without the McCormick fortune?  Looking back on history it’s interesting to think about these questions and to think about how we are connected to each other.  In our community, we use the McCormick name on a daily basis on our way to the park but that name really goes deeper than we think…  Anyone who’s taken the pill or been with someone who took the pill is related in some small way to the actions of Katherine Dexter McCormick.  It makes me wonder about the choices we make in our own lives as well as the chance events and encounters we have.  How might they affect society, and the future?

Further Reading

The Pill at 50: Sex, Freedom and Paradox
This hour has 7 days interview with John Rock
Letters between Katherine McCormick and Margaret Sanger

Small Histories: Flags, Riots and Faggos

The Rainbow Flag, San Fransisco 1978

I’m always interested in the history of things, and I wanted to find out how the rainbow flag came to be a sign for the Gay, Lesbian, Trans, and Bi movement and was there really a connection between Judy Garland “Over the Rainbow” and the pride flag?

The flag first flew in a Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco in 1978.  The flag was designed by artist Gilbert Baker and was inspired by the flag of the Races (which had white, black, yellow, brown and red stripes).  Gilbert’s flag design consisted of 8 colours, each colour had it’s own meaning.  From top to bottom, hot pink – sexuality, red – life, orange – healing, yellow – sunlight, green – nature, turquoise – magic/art, indigo/blue – serenity/harmony, violet – spirit.  The first flags were hand dyed and hand stitched for the parade.

In November of that year, when Harvey Milk was assassinated, the demand for the rainbow flag grew to use for Gay Rights demonstrations.  The hot pink colour was dropped from the flag because that colour fabric was difficult to find.  By 1979, the flags were hung along lampposts on Market Street, obscuring the middle stripe, and the easiest way to remedy this was to drop one of the colours to have 3 colours on each side – the turquoise colour was removed to leave 6 colours and the flag popular today.  It’s interesting that the 2 colours dropped are most closely related to the light pink and light blue associated with baby boys and baby girls.

 

The Stonewall Riots, New York, 1968

Gilbert Baker was also inspired by Judy Garland’s song “Over the Rainbow”.  Garland was a gay icon at the time and her death has been said to spur the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village in New York City.  On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn which was a hang out for drag queens, transgendered, young gay men and homeless youth.  At this time in New York, police would arrest any man dressed as a woman and it was typical at these raids that drag queens were escorted to the bathroom by a female officer to prove that they were women!  This particular day, and it’s been suggested that because of Judy Garland’s death that the people in the Stonewall that night were feeling particularly fragile, the drag queens wouldn’t go and the patrons of the bar who were kicked out of the bar stayed outside.  As patrons of the bar began to come out handcuffed and put into patrol wagons the crowd grew more and more hostile. Other people on the street joined the mob.  Coins, bottles and bricks were thrown.  Police bats were used.  The patrol wagons were attempted to be flipped and some of the police sped away while ten officers barricaded themselves in the Stonewall.

A crowd of 500-600 were now gathered and they uprooted a parking meter to smash down the doors of the bar and climbed in through windows.  The Tactical Police Force arrived and formed a line to control the crowd but the mob just mocked the police forming a kick-line and singing.   This encouraged the police to use their night sticks to hit the crowd.  By 4:00 am the streets were cleared but the feeling of empowerment continued over the next few days with crowds gathering along Christopher Street and in front of the Stonewall Inn.

These events encouraged members of the LGBT community to organize themselves to fight for their rights.  Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970 marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Pride parades across the globe are inspired by these events and still take place on the anniversary of these riots on the last week of June every year.

 

Faggos, Toronto, Late 80’s

One of my first encounters with a gay male on TV was that of Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall.  I was a huge fan of the show that ran between 1989 to 1995.  I would record the show on VHS and watch it over and over again.  A skit that comes to mind immediately for me and one that I knew I had on tape was the skit “FAGGO’s”, where Thompson goes through all of the letters in the word FAGGOT and decides that it’s the T (that reminds everyone of Christ dying on the cross) that makes the word “faggot” upsetting.  In the end he says “C’mon Faggos! Let’s sing!”

The Kids in the Hall were so edgy back then and there hasn’t been anything as funny on CBC since. The CBC really needs to have more than just political humour and the usual CBC incestuousness. The funniest comedy comes out of the stuff that people are afraid to talk about.  If you watch some of the old Kids in the Hall, it’s still edgy today.  Take the “Scott’s Not Gay Anymore” for example, it talks about sexual freedom in the most hilarious way. I love it when Mark McKinney comes in with the gay paraphernalia.  Watch it below.

I remember hearing an interview with him after Ellen DeGeneres came out saying something like “WTF?  I did this like 10 years ago!!”.  This is when funny Canadians were out there pushing the boundaries.  Are Canadians as funny as they used to be?  In these Conservative times, I’m not so sure.

 

The Mystery of Miss Mary McCormick

Mary McCormick is the name of our local park and community centre.  But who is she?  The Blok digs deep to bring you the fascinating story of this mysterious woman.


At the pumpkin walk this year I ran into Joe who lives across from McCormick Park (and is part of the group Friends of McCormick Park) and I told him about this magazine and how I was searching around for some history of the neighbourhood.

During our conversation Joe brought up a question; “Who was Mary McCormick?”  And that idea led to this article. The first problem I encountered searching online was how common a name Mary McCormick was in early Toronto. After a trip to the Toronto Reference Library and wading through old articles from the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail I began to unravel the mystery of this unusual woman.

In the archives there are old photos of McCormick Playground with the date 1911 scribed on the bottom. I searched the Toronto Star database for “Mary McCormick Playground” looking for the earliest entries. Bingo! Here is the headline that I found:

“A CHECK FOR $10,000 FOR BIG PLAYGROUND”

The Gift of Miss McCormick, Promised Recently, Received by Chairman Brown To-day.”

The genial face of Trustee C. A. B. Brown was one broad, beaming smile to-day.  The reason was that lying before him on his desk when he came to his office this morning was a letter which contained a check for $10,000.

It was a gift of Miss Mary B. McCormick to the Toronto Playground Association.  The check was made payable to  Mr. Brown as president of the association, and the $10,000 is to be used to equip the new Cottingham Square playground.

Miss McCormick is the daughter of the founder and head of the famous McCormick harvester manufacturing firm, and is reputed to be a millionairess.  She came to reside in Toronto recently, and bought the residence of Senator MacDonald on Avenue Road hill. She has interested herself in the playground movement, and her interest is practical as well as sympathetic.

The plans for the equipment of Cottingham Square playground have been examined and revised by Chicago’s park superintendent, and it is designed to have this Toronto playground go the Chicago south side playgrounds one better.

“It will be the finest in the country,” said Mr.Brown.  “We cannot say too much for this fine gift of Miss McCormick’s”.

It seems that after this, Mary became well known in the Toronto scene as “Miss McCormick.”  At that time women were usually known through their husband’s first and last name and “spinsters” such as she were known as just “Miss”.  Armed with this piece of Victorian etiquette I had more luck. “Miss McCormick” turned up more than “Mary McCormick” and soon enough I found what I was looking for from the Daily Star, March 1, 1912.

brockaveplaygrounds

A visual of the structure that existed at the McCormick playground with Miss McCormick’s name attached.  Next I found the following article from the Toronto Daily Star, December 31, 1917:

 parentsentertained

By searching Oaklands and McCormick I was able to come up with even more information about the enigmatic Mary McCormick.  I learned her middle name, Virginia, and some interesting facts about her home and her personal bathing preferences…

“Oaklands” was the name of Mary McCormick’s house on Avenue Road.  It was purchased by her in 1905 from John McDonald (not John A., but the first prime minister did make him a Senator). Miss  McCormick installed “…a needle shower, her own private bowling alley, and a dentist’s chair.”  A needle shower is basically a stand-up shower, which was very uncommon in those days, as I am guessing a dentist’s chair might have been too!  I also learned that McCormick had “…her own private black band.  She was wont to call upon them at any hour of the day or night to perform in the ballroom.” Additionally, it turned out that Mary would hop aboard any horse-drawn carriage, even a grocer’s cart or an ice cream wagon and drive off.  Each fall, she would leave for California, using 14 limousines to get her there. A particular portrait of Mary McCormick was beginning to take shape in my mind:  an independant woman of means who could afford to indulge her eccentric tastes. I thought about the splash this would have made in the conservative Toronto neighbourhood where she lived.

This was getting interesting.  This Mary McCormick would have been a shoe-in for a reality TV series.

The Full Picture

Armed with Mary’s correct title and name, I had the key to a wealth of information about her and her family. Her story is a sad, unusual one that criss-crosses the continent. Never would I have imagined that my local park’s benefactor had such a history.

Mary Virginia McCormick was the first-born daughter of Cyrus H. McCormick and Nettie Fowler. Cyrus was the inventor of the first commercially successful reaper, a horse-drawn machine to harvest wheat.  He was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia.  By 1858 the McCormick Co. of Chicago was the largest farm equipment supplier in the United States with assets totalling more than 1 million dollars (approximately 28 million today). In 1859, Cyrus married and two years later Mary Virginia was born. In 1880 at age 19, Mary was diagnosed with “…dementia praecox of the catatonic type” or schizophrenia.  Cyrus died in 1884 but his fortune bought land in Santa Barbara, California, and Mary’s brother Stanley supervised the building of “Riven Rock” for her.  Mary lived here from 1898 – 1904.

mvm-wisconsinhistoricalsociety2

Wisconsin Historical Society, Gray, W. C., 1901, Mary Virginia McCormick, 42526. Viewed online here

At this time in Mary’s adult life and there seemed to be attempts by her family to protect and support her in light of her mental illness.   No doubt it would have been difficult for a wealthy family during such conservative times to deal with this disease in social circles and perhaps this is why Mary moved among different residences all over the continent.  It’s hard to know how much control Mary had over her own life and which choices, if any, were made by her.  In any case, there seems to be no shortage of funds, and no expenses spared for Mary’s lifestyle.

At the turn of the century, Mary was moved to Alabama.  No doubt, the McCormick family was attracted to the sanitorium and resort hotel there in the town of Viduta (derivative of the Spanish word “Vida” meaning life).  People had been coming to this area near Monte Sano, (the spanish words for “Mountain of Health”) since the 1820s. The sanitorium opened on June 1, 1897 and closed early in the 1900’s.

The closing of the sanitorium coincides with the purchase of the estate called “Kildare” in Huntsville, Alabama.  Mary was supported by a large staff the under the guidance of Grace Walker (the one mentioned in the newspaper snippet above).  Mary McCormick’s philanthropy seems to have begun during her stay in Huntsville, Alabama.  She funded “…several YMCAs in the mill villages surrounding town, an African-American wing for the then-segregated Huntsville Hospital, and a hospital at Alabama A&M University.”  It’s been suggested that it was Grace Walker who influenced Mary’s philanthropy.  Grace Walker remained an assistant to Mary for over 30 years.  Grace grew up in Canada and was the daughter of a minister.  She served on the national board of the YWCA of Canada for 25 years and was a long-time member of the Housing Board of the City of Toronto. It’s unknown when Mary met Grace, and perhaps Grace is the reason she ended up coming to Toronto.  It is also unknown how much time Mary and Grace spent in Alabama during each year (it was possibly a stopover on the way to and back from California?) but the house there was used for many social events, including Christmas parties for children, Easter egg hunts, and a celebration for Virginia’s birthday in May. Eventually, Kildare was sold by the McCormicks in 1932.

The Kildare estate is now known for its ghost stories.  Mary’s ghost supposedly haunts the basement where it is believed that Mary was locked up because of her mental illness.  The last owners had such a problem with ghost chasers that they built a huge fence around the property and fought with city council about it. The estate is now slated for demolition, but there is a Facebook page out there trying to raise funds to save it.

kildare

Time in Toronto

By the time Mary McCormick came to Toronto in 1905 she would have been 44 years old and back then a true “spinster.”  Mary did not live in the neighbourhood of Brockton; her house “Oaklands” was near Avenue Road.  Her donation to Cottingham Square was transferred to Brock Avenue because the rail tracks were too close to that park.  It was actually McCormick’s mother who came up from Chicago to the opening of the Toronto playground in 1911.  Perhaps Mary was in a poor state of health or in Alabama or California at the time.  During Mary’s time in Toronto, she was mentioned in the newspaper as attending many events and hosting talks or parties at her home “Oaklands.”  Oaklands is now known as De La Salle College; a co-ed private school.  There are ghost stories about this place too; many people have heard her private black band playing late at night, decades after she had moved away.  You can rent Oaklands on AirBnB!

Oaklands,_Toronto
Mary McCormick’s estate in Toronto “Oaklands” , this picture taken in 1891

California

Around 1926 Mary McCormick contracted a throat ailment and gave up on Toronto and Alabama and moved to California permanently.  An estate called “Quelindo” was built for her in 1929 in Santa Monica and she lived here as a recluse for 17 years. She died in 1941.

This property is now for sale for $23 million.

 

The story of Mary McCormick leaves many unanswered questions; the most puzzling for me was why did Mary McCormick come to Toronto in the first place.  Was there treatment for her affliction available here in Toronto that didn’t exist anywhere else?  Was the family trying to hide Mary’s illness from their family and friends in the States?  Did Mary herself choose to come here for a new start in her middle age? How does Grace Walker fit into Mary’s life? Was it her upbringing in Toronto that brought Mary back here? We don’t know the answer to these questions. We can only speculate about the events and motivations for these moves.  In any case, we have the mechanical reaper and Mary and her family’s generosity to thank for our local playground, which at one time was built to be one of the best in North America.  Unfortunately, while I’ve spent many hours at the park and the community centre, I’ve yet to witness the ghost of Mary McCormick.

 

Blackface in Brockton

While perusing the archives for old pictures of the McCormick Community Centre, I came across something shocking – 2 pictures of the McCormick Minstrels, one dated December 28, 1916 and the other January 29, 1920.  I was interested to find out the history of this photograph.  What was the minstrel show?

Jump Jim Crow

First on de heel tap, den on the toe
Every time I wheel about I jump Jim Crow.
I wheel about and turn about an do just so,
And every time I wheel about I jump Jim Crow.

It’s hard to pinpoint the beginning of white people performing in blackface as its history stretches back to before Shakespearean actors performed Othello, but the beginnings of whites performing slave music in North America can be traced to around the 1820s.  Thomas Dartmouth (T.D.) “Daddy” Rice popularized blackface with his performance as “Daddy Jim Crow” which was based on a folk trickster persona that was popular among black slaves.  The persona was also inspired by a black crippled slave whom Rice met in St. Louis, Cincinnati, or Pittsburgh. He used to sing the traditional slave song “Jump Jim Crow” with a little hop at the end of each verse. Rice took his “Daddy Jim Crow” performance on tour and by 1841 the song became so popular that the U.S. Ambassidor to Central America was played the song as his official welcome in Yucatan, Mexico because the song was actually thought to be the United States national anthem.  The Boston Post wrote, “The two most popular characters in the world at the present are [Queen]Victoria and Jim Crow.”

At this time it was common to see black people mocked as being uneducated, irrational, and lazy.  Rice’s minstrel shows and his stage persona helped to perpetuate this negative and stereotypical view among white audiences.  By 1938, “Jim Crow” became a derogtory term for “Negro” and later in the century when laws were passed for the segregation of African Americans from whites, the laws became known as “Jim Crow laws”.

Researching the minstrel show in Toronto. I read in Adrienne Shadd, Afua Cooper, and  Karolyn Smardz Frost’s book The Underground Railroad: Next stop Toronto!  that 45 members of the black community approached city hall in 1840 to ban the minstrel show in Toronto.  At the time they were denied, but 2 years later it passed council that minstrel shows were not to be performed in the city. Nevertheless, the minstrel show’s popularity grew and could not be restrained.

I decided to talk to someone who knew the history of minstrel shows in Canada and Toronto, and I found Cheryl Thompson, Ph D., an expert on the subject.  Her essay, “Come One, Come All: Blackface Minstrelsy as a Canadian Tradition and Early Form of Popular Culture,” will be published later this year.

■ – In 1842, Minstrel shows were banned in Toronto.  The photo I found from the local community centre was dated 1920.  Was the ban a reflection of the wishes of the wider community and if so, why did the shows continue past this date? Who was responsible for administering and maintaining these bans and were there repercussions for those who ignored them?

Cheryl Thompson – Yes, there is some evidence to suggest that a group of black Torontonians petitioned the city in the 1840s to forbid travelling circuses and minstrel shows, even though many feared that such protest would incite racist repercussions.  But there is no evidence that minstrel shows were banned. My research of Toronto newspapers reveals the consistent presence of advertisements for professional minstrel shows at theatre houses, and amateur minstrel shows at athletic clubs, high schools, girls and boys’ clubs, and lodges consistently from the 1880s through to the 1930s.

■ – I imagine that with this many children dressed up in blackface that this particular minstrel show had a wide support in the neighbourhood. This wasn’t a small group; this was a well- organized troupe.  In your research, did you come across what material a children’s troupe like this might perform?

CT – Children’s groups often performed minstrel shows. For example, in the 1920s, the Eaton’s Girls Club would frequently entertain audiences with a minstrel show. The minstrel show was so ubiquitous in Toronto that the real question to ask is which group was not holding a minstrel show. Whites, but also other ethnic groups, especially Jews, also performed amateur minstrel shows, such as the Jewish Boys and Girls Club in the 1920s.

■ –  What would have been the appeal of a minstrel show in a community like this? Were the shows’ primary purposes to maintain rigid racial boundaries and reinforce racial stereotypes? Was there any other reason for using blackface?

CT – Yes, maintaining rigid racial boundaries and reinforcing racial stereotypes were two primary reasons. It is difficult to speak to intentions or get into the minds of people who put on darkening makeup to appear in performances as supposed black people. Part of the allure was in the mimicry and the distance from black bodies. It was easy to perform these shows in spaces where blacks were absent. Toronto has a long history of de facto segregation, so during the time period of these images, blacks would not have been allowed in spaces where these performances were taking place. These spaces became “safe” white spaces where people could deflect their own subjugation in society by taking on the supposed corporeal features of those deemed to be “less than”… The racial implications of blackface are interconnected with issues related to immigration, a sentimental remembrance for black enslavement, and access to employment.

■ – In some ways, Canadian cities were a haven for Black people escaping slavery in the 19th century, but with the Jim Crow laws passed in the United States at the end of that century, I imagine that some of that racial tension would have been felt in Canada too.  Can you descibe what a Black person’s experience of Toronto after the WWI would have been like?

CT – Before and after WWI, Canada’s federal government implemented racist immigration policies that in not so many words aimed to “keep Canada white.” Blacks, especially African Americans, were overtly named as unwanted immigrants. There are even images of military troops from WWI performing blackface shows overseas during the war. The early twentieth century can be remembered as a time where the principles of eugenics were widespread. Eugenics was a form of social Darwinism which stated that the white Anglo-Saxon race (men, specifically) was superior to all other races and that they, and only they, had the right to teach, build, and own. Whiteness was defined by a superiority that was biological and believed to be intrinsic to the white race. Thus, the experience of blacks in Toronto during this time would have been marked by an astute awareness of this widespread belief. At the same time, black Torontonians during this time opened businesses and ran churches; they organized in the 1920s with many joining chapters of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), so there was resistance to the widespread racism of the period. If you look on the city of Toronto archives you will find a panorama photographic of black community members standing outside what is now Old City Hall in the early 1920s.

■ – When did the Minstrel show in Toronto (or Canada) fall out of fashion?

CT – Some would argue that it has never fallen out of fashion, the reason why every Halloween there is another incident where whites wear blackface at a university party. The difference today is that these performance are taking place at elite universities across the country rather than local clubs, and the newspapers are reporting the incidents as a problem, not celebrating how great the show was. In terms of the minstrel show as part of the community, by the 1960s it began to fade away and few clubs would have performed these shows after this period. The civil rights movement and shifting attitudes toward race and immigration had a role to play in changing white attitudes about the shows, which many had previously considered to be “fun.” In the contemporary, young white kids believe that it is OK or not racist to put on blackface to portray Jamaicans or a black rapper whom “they like and admire” because these white kids have no clue about the history of blackface in the United States nor are they aware of its history here in Canada and right in their own local communities. They think it is OK because there is a geographic distance between those whom they are “imitating” and the practice of blackening one’s face. But in fact, there is not. If you look at contemporary blackface, these white students are darkening their skins (meaning, putting on a black makeup that doesn’t even resemble actual black skin) just like whites did a century ago. These kids are mocking black bodies and culture, just like they did a century ago. And just like a century ago, they find enjoyment in the practice. The only difference is that these performances are no longer behind closed doors, they are made public and are viewed by the very blacks that the shows of the past kept away. Will blackface ever go away? Probably not until we take seriously the history of race and racism in Canada.

 

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McCormick Sports Teams of the Past

Gallery

The FOMP Narrative

I attended a meeting at McCormick Community Centre in early January because  I was interested in finding out more about the Friends of McCormick Park.  I had come to these meetings a few years ago when FOMP began, but fell off going because it was just too difficult to make it at a time when my young kids needed to get to bed.  I still received the email invitations though, and was curious about the first point of the agenda for this particular meeting:  “McCormick Park narrative:  How do we tell the story of FOMP and its initiatives?”

I thought who better to tell the story than the Friends themselves?  I wanted to go to the meeting, record it, and let the members’ conversation reveal the story.

The discussion proved to be a wonderful way to document what the friends of McCormick have done and then to use this narrative or document as a resource for further community action. While the discussion meaders (as discussions do) through different ideas about the park and the history of the park, it clearly shows the passion of our local park group.

(This conversation has been edited and condensed)


The Players

Nicholas Gallant (thoughtful representative of Ana Bailao’s office)
Jennifer Tibbitt (Bank Street gardener, mom)
Heather Maciel (young and friendly Aangen Cafe employee)
Adriana Beemans (new mother, expert grant writer, lives on Gordon Ave.)
Joe Pauker (writer from Middleton Street, father of 2)
Jen Cypher (a spark, a professor who lives on Brock Ave)
Karen Falkenberg (Brock Ave artist, mother, baker, event planner)
Fung Lee (Designer, mother of 2, lives on Dundas, latecomer)
Maria Brum (First timer to a FOMP meeting, but 40 years in the hood, a connection with the past and non-English speaking members of the community)
Jason Bomers (me)


 

Karen:  So, what’s our narrative?

(everyone laughs)

Jen Cypher:  One of the things that concerns me, not in a worried way, but in a way that I want people to be thinking about, is why are we doing this and who is this for?  Is this for us?  Is this for posterity?  And why?  Is it because someone asked us?  Is it because we are we trying to refocus? Or are we trying to look at where we’ve come from.

Jennifer Tibbit:   Are you talking about the narrative?

Jen Cypher:  Yes, I’m talking about producing a kind of narrative about FOMP.

Adriana Beemans:   As someone coming in new to Friends of McCormick Park,  I feel that it would have been helpful to know something about the history, the context, and the culture of the group.  I don’t necessarily mean a mission statement, but a document with a narrative that  gives a sense of what people are walking into.  I also thought it would be helpful to identify, as we get more formalized, the key specific activities that we’re trying to put into place. If we can get a document or conversation about three things what we want to do over the next year, then it’s easier to pull people out to volunteer because you can ask them what initiative they want to be a part of.

Nick:  I think part of the reason I’m interested in doing this is that it’s a chronicle of things past for anybody who’s interested and it also provides that public record.  Public record in the case of groups like this is really important to show partly where you’ve come from, so people can tap in whenever they want to. On the other hand, it also has a dangerous side; if you write too much of the story and people feel like they haven’t experienced that, they may not want to jump into it. What I hope for from this effort is that it’s seen as an open narrative.  While there certainly are things which have happened in the past, what we want is for people to come in and plug into something that is already flowing and they have their resources there to plug into. My key consideration when thinking about this is how can we create it but keep it open and influenceable by multiple parties around the community and in that way, keep it more democratic.

Jen Cypher:  I think a narrative, especially one that is a multi-voiced one like you are talking about can help us be more transparent too, which is something I’ve always wanted to be here.  It’s difficult because it’s based on a meeting structure and based on actions.  We try to keep the meetings to a minimum and “do stuff.”  It’s harder to be transparent and open and have a record if you’re not keeping one because you’re trying to “do stuff.”  Doing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to write down the notes of what you did. So a narrative might help with that.  It would also discourage people from trying to reinvent the wheel by including in the document, for example, a little history about how to conduct a bake sale.

Nick:  That’s another really good point. When people want to look for examples of how to run a great park group, one of the places where they look is the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park.  A lot of we see happening in this community is people asking “How is this different from Dufferin Grove?” That’s one of the things that the Dufferin Grove example did amazingly well.  Just today I pulled information about the grants they got to put in their own community kitchen – the Zamboni Cafe, several years back.  Having those resources readily available at their fingertips can provide a good example for people locally, but also for people around the world.   In our case it’s a new story; we’re working in a different place than the friends of Dufferin Grove in the early 1990s. It’s a very different city now.  I think there is a lot of opportunity to use the narrative as a means to shape city policy.  If we notice certain themes written throughout that policy, and we think “Why does it have to be like that?” it doesn’t.  It doesn’t.  There are avenues to change that. That’s another one of my hopes for our park.

Jennifer Tibbit:  That’s what I’ve seen Jutta Mason (from Friends of Dufferin Grove) write about a lot.  I think what Jutta Mason has done is really positive but other people don’t always agree with her.  She gets a lot of flack.  She’s always asking questions.  Why do you have to do it like that?  Because you’ve always done it like that – or because these are the rules.  But I also think for our group, there are lots of little things we’ve done, the bollard fight, the bulletin board, the safety walk, that we forget about and it adds up.  It’s the power of a community group when they wouldn’t listen to our individual complaints.  Doing that work as a group is a big deal.

Jen Cypher:  There is no problem too small!

Jennifer Tibbitt:  Nothing ever happened, nothing changed when it was only my whining about it, but as a group, as FOMP, it really did get a response. I really saw it. I think that’s important too, as well as the festivals and the cafe.

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Adriana:  I think one of the things that impressed me with this group is the action-oriented versus the meeting-oriented.  Also when asking how the festival was funded, I learned it all happened voluntarily and with in-kind donations. I think that it would be amazing to have the narrative capture that spirit of volunteerism and of civil society.  This is an amazing volunteer- based community group. That’s a really powerful thing to happen for the city as they are talking more about local volunteerism and park stewards. New parks planning is going through their own culture change shift right now and this is going to be a really good example.  I would be fascinated for the narrative to find out why people joined and how long they have been in the group because I’m a newer member. I would love to hear what another member’s favourite thing was or what another member accomplished.

Maria:  Sorry, I just wanted to ask and I know I’m just now coming in … in terms of the narrative or the history of it… Is the objective about the history of this group or is it about the community and the history of the park?  How far back do you go?  There is a lot of history that happened in this park before this group.

Karen:  I think we’re talking about Friends of McCormick and what we’re doing now and not the park history.

Joe:  One of the things we’ve talked about since the beginning is finding out more about the park.  Some of that comes from when we work together, and when we meet other people in the community to do other projects, we do learn about the history of the park.

Jason:  I think that the history of the park is fascinating, whether it’s the history of what’s happening here with the Friends of McCormick or the larger history of the park.

Maria:  Personally as someone who’s lived here all my life and chosen to stay here, I think it has a great history with very positive moments, and then there is some history which is not so positive; however, that was just the nature of the culture of that time.  Especially if you talk to people my age, and you say the “McCormick Boys,” to those of us who lived here, we know exactly what that meant:   the  rumbles and switchblades and knives.  Today of course, it can mean an entirely different thing.  There are pros and cons to the park.  But the park, for me, it puts a smile on my face, because it was a park used so much by the community.

Joe:  I heard a great story second or third-hand that someone told me last weekend.  He was saying when he was a kid at one point the train stopped on the tracks and it was full of watermelons.  Someone broke into it at night and the whole neighbourhood was eating watermelons the next day.  They asked “Do you know who did it?” and everyone is like (puffs out cheeks and shakes his head).

(Everyone laughs)

Maria:  I’d like to share a personal story about the diamond here at the park.  At least once or twice a month on Friday nights, people would come to watch black and white movies. It was one of the biggest community gatherings, even Dufferin Grove has not come close to it.  It was not the kind of movie that would exclude people because many people in the community did not speak English. We had the old and the young and the new and wheelchairs and strollers. People brought their lawn chairs.  That whole park would be full of people coming to watch Laurel and Hardy, because it was something universal; it didn’t matter if you knew English or not.  It’s one of my fondest memories.  Whenever I talk to anyone that’s still in the neighbourhood or has moved away and I say “Do you remember when we used to have the movies on friday?” they say “Oh yeah!”  A whole discussion breaks out with big smiles about that.  If I had a magic wand and a wish, that’s what I’d like to see. It was such a beautiful memory because it wasn’t just the young people coming out. It was everyone.

Jen Cypher:  They do that at Shirley Street…There are lots of resources in the neighbourhood.  It wouldn’t be that hard.

Nick:  That’s what I’m talking about.  You can tell the stories of the past but we’re building a present story. It’s also a great point about precedent.  Movie nights in parks… you don’t want to take out a big permit, you just want to make it happen…

Heather:  The cafe can sell popcorn!

Karen:  Well you know, when we were putting together the festival, I found that it was pretty easy to bring it together because the park is so special to the community.  That’s what I think is important to people about the park.  It’s how it connects people and makes a stronger community.  When I moved to the community, that’s where I met people, in the park.  For myself in the narrative, I’m interested in doing are things that promote that culture of connection with the community.

Nick:  Can we talk about broad brush stroke themes that we want to incorporate? That way each of us can start spinning our heads around these themes and ideas.  Like the park as a community connector.  That’s a key theme in the story and can be woven throughout.

Karen:   And that the park is equal access and everything is free.  So it doesn’t matter how much things cost or what is your family income.  Everybody can come to the park; it’s a place for everyone…and there is no judgement…

Nick:  So it’s an opportunity to reinforce values that we hold dear.  If we say we want it to be an open, accessible, connective space for the community and we keep on saying that through the stories that we tell, it will stay that way.

Jen Cypher:  The things we do enhance and foster that.

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Adriana:  Building on what you said, for my partner and me, public spaces are big. They are a common asset and something that you can share among strangers.  We see it as an extended living room or backyard.  Had I known about it, I would have celebrated my kid’s birthday in the summer, so I could have used the park!  For us, it’s a huge common resource. People are always talking about gentrification.  What’s so special about this neighbourhood and this park is that there is such a range of people that have lived here and continue to choose to live here.  There are a lot of Portuguese cafes, bars, and bakeries along Dundas that are not catering to us but that are successful and vibrant.  I think what was very powerful to me when I became a mom and felt like I could hang out in the park more, is that it felt like a counter-weight to gentrification.  As long as we have places where people from different incomes and classes and backgrounds actually interact and engage, then I think that is how we are able to counter the influences of gentrification.  It’s not an us vs. them situation.  We’re all in the park and our kids are all playing together.  I remember when the neighbourhood had a massive influx of Roma refugees and I would be sitting in the park and talking to Roma mothers…. it was such a rare and powerful moment for me.  I really enjoyed doing that during my summer on maternity leave.

Maria:  I like what you said about us vs. them.   I hope it doesn’t become a place where it’s like that because that has been my experience at Dufferin Grove.  I think that what we have here is great.  I’ve been back to the park myself to use neutral space to read or to breathe . I hope that it doesn’t get to the point where we’re excluding people in the community.  I really hope that the group stays in this format…

Karen:  What you were saying about transparency I think is very important because there is this sense that when you tell people about this group they believe that it’s a secret clique. That’s the perception!

Maria:  That was my perception when I came here tonight …

Karen:  We should make sure everyone knows that our meetings are the first Tuesday of the month and that anyone is welcome.  We should have a sign on the community board listing those dates. Something that makes it more open.

Maria:  I find that, as someone who uses the centre, I look at that board all the time just to catch up.  That’s how I found out that this group existed.

Jason:  I think people in the neighbourhood need to realize that with this group, it’s just your neighbour who decided to have a bake sale to improve the park.  It’s not coming from the city; it’s coming from the people in the hood.

Jen Cypher:  I would like that story to be told.  For me this is very political!  This is activism to me.  This isn’t just community engagement.  This is community activism right across the street from my house.  If it didn’t have that aspect to it, then I wouldn’t do it. That story needs to be told.  People need to be encouraged to do it!  To just freakin’ do it.  People ask, “Can I do that in the park?” and I say “Yes, do it!”   Not just reclaim it.  Claim it.  It’s not a reclamation; it is already yours.  You want to participate in a garage sale in the park, just do it!  No one is going to tell you no.  The by-law officer is not going to come along.

Someone:  What by-law officer?

Jen Cypher:  Exactly!  I think that’s another reason this story needs to be told because people need to be encouraged to do what they want in this public space.  I think people want to, but they think that they can’t.

Maria:  About coming here tonight, I debated with myself for 2 hours, should I go or should I not.  There are preconceptions … I wanted to come and try to talk about accessibility in the park.  I think it’s important to empower those who have been here a long time, like myself and say, “Come back, it’s okay.”  It’s okay to reclaim your park.  It doesn’t matter if you’re 60, get to know the new people moving in.  But it’s hard …

Fung:  It’s intimidating and there is cynicism.

Maria:  There is cynicism and there are a lot of misconceptions too.  Some of it is true and some of it is not about people moving into the neighbourhood and being pushy and not respecting the history and respecting that people have cleaned up the community. But you just have to come and do it and take your chances in life.

Adriana:  I like what you said about activism.  We always talk about living local. We shop local.  We don’t have a car.  Part of being in the park is living local.  We’ve only been here a short time, and I talked to a friend who asked me, “Who do you know in the neighbourhood?” and I felt happy about knowing a lot of people.  So I think that’s part of that activism, investing in your neighbourhood and making it better.  From a city councillor perspective, one of the things I’ve learned from FOMP is that if you want your city councillor to listen to you, he or she  will listen to you.  Watching Nick work behind the scenes and doing this work but also knowing the vision that we have for the park can be implemented because we have the councillor’s ear:  that’s a really powerful role that any citizen can take up.  Being a part of the park group is a part of your citizenship.

(phone rings, disrupts conversation)

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McCormick – Photos from the Archives

Gallery

Dundas Street in 1852

Excerpt from “Landmarks of Toronto” by J. Ross Robertson 1898

After Marshall’s houses (at Dovercourt) there were no houses at all until Dufferin street was reached. Then there was a large driving shed belonging to Collard‘s tavern. Then came a second licensed house kept by Joseph Church (the building still remains), known as the Brown Bear, and then followed a noted hostelry, the Queen Street Hotel, of which the proprietor was one Robert James, known far and wide as “Bob” James. He was famous for his horses and for his love of sport of all kinds, and few men of his class were more respected by both his customers and the general public. At this period (1852) the whole of the north-eastern side of Dundas street, from Ossington to Brock Avenue, was known as Denison Terrace, the name given to it many years previously by the first owner of the land, G. T. Denison, of Bellevue, Toronto, father of Richard L. Denison, of Dovercourt, and G. T. Denison, of Rusholme.

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The locality where Collard’s, Church’s and James taverns stood was popularly known as Appii Forum or the Three Taverns, and there on fine days, both in summer and winter, were wont to assemble racing men, eager to arrange contests to test the capabilities of their various trotting horses. Past the Three Taverns were no houses on either side of Dundus Street; for about one hundred yards, until the toll gate was reached, which was kept for many years by James Kerr. The gate house was on the north-east side of Dundas street and rails extended across the road on the opposite side to the fence, so when the gate was closed it was impossible for conveyances to get through at all until it was opened, and pedestrians were compelled either to wait its opening or climb over.

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Close to the gate, on the south-western side of the street, was a small general store, kept by a Mrs Larkin, who was also post-mistress. There was no letter-box at this time (1853), and every one called for their correspondence. Such a thing as delivering a letter never crossed the mind of anyone. There was but one collection a day and sometimes in very bad weather not that.  This post-office was first known as Dennison Terrace office, then as Lippincott and finally as Brockton. There were two or three other houses close to the post-office, and then the road now known as Brock avenue was reached, and there the houses finally stopped on that side of the road.

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Coming west through the toll-gate on the northern side of Dundas street were no houses until Brock avenue was passed, then standing back a little way from the road were four log shanties built for the use of the lumbermen and known as Stoney Batter Village. The name pleased the fancy of the residents in these cottages, and so long as they remained standing they bore no other. They finally disappeared about thirty years ago. From this point, crossing by what was known as the White Bridge, the line of the then Northern Railway, Dundas street ran through the bush, without house or residence of any kind on either side of the road until it reached what was then a concession, but which is now Bloor street.


The drawings in “Landmarks of Toronto” by W. J. Thomson inspired artists in the early part of the 20th century to create paintings of the quaint Town of Brockton.  See them below.

Watercolour by John W. Cotton, ca 1913?

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Watercolour by Owen Staples? ca 1912?

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The Buildings of Brockton

Digging Up Roots

brocktonsealSearching around online for information on the history of Brockton proved challenging.  There are bits and pieces of information here and there but nothing definitive.  It did feel a little bit like digging for treasure without a map and I found that there wasn’t necessarily a treasure box but definitely a few gems here and there.

The first obvious place to look is Wikipedia where I found the following basic information about Brockton Village:

Brockton was named after Sir Issac Brock’s cousin James Brock.  After the war of 1812 James was parcelled land west of Dufferin from Queen St. (Then Lot St.) to Bloor St.   When Brock died, his wife Lucy commissioned a road in 1850 which is now known as Brock Ave and began selling off this land and this settlement began to be known as Brockton.

By the time Brockton was incorporated as a village in 1876 it stretched as far as High Park in the west and bordered on Bloor to the north, Dufferin to the east and the rail lines to the south.  In 1881 is was incorporated as a town but only lasted 4 years until it went bankrupt and was annexed by the City of Toronto in 1885.

I also learned about the Brockton Town Hall still exists at the corner of Brock and Dundas, the first stop on our walking tour of the buildings of Brockton.

markerThe Brockton Town Hall

1617 Dundas Street West

The Brockton Town Hall was designed in 1881 by Joseph A. Fowler (1850-1921), still stands at the corner of Dundas and Brock and now houses Elite Plumbing Supplies.  When it was a working town hall it had a fire department and jail cells in the basement.  It was also known as Worm’s Hall for the builder and owner of the building.  Later it was known as Fire Hall No.13 & St. Mark’s Hall.  In the picture below taken in the 1950’s looks as if it was a mechanic shop before it became a plumbing store.
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Brockton Town Hall – 1952 | Photo by James Salmon


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St. Helen’s Roman Catholic Cathedral

1680 Dundas Street West

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W.J. Thomson, 1914 Postcard before the steeple was complete.

Brockton’s largest and most majestic building is St. Helen’s Cathedral. St. Helen’s was designed by Arthur Holmes who also designed Toronto buildings, St. Patrick’s Church, St. Michael’s College in U of T, and St. Francis of Assisi in Little Italy.   The church was built by Irish immigrants with Indiana limestone and Don Valley red brick in the french gothic revival style.  The building was finished in 1909 but the steeple wasn’t complete until after the 1st world war.  It still remains the second largest roman Catholic church in Toronto.  The rectory also designed by Arthur Holmes was finished in 1911.      .

The current building is actually a second version of St. Helen’s Church.  The first was built at the corner of Lansdowne and Dundas, where the No Frills stands today.  After St. Helen’s moved, the original building was used as an army barracks in WW1.  Then served as the first Ukrainian Catholic church in Canada before it was destroyed to make way for the National Register Company factory (see below). The confessionals from the original church stand inside the current building on either side of the entrance.


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St. Claren’s Methodist Church

110-112 St. Claren’s Avenue

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Nestled between the gas station, the Dundas/St. Clarens Parkette and an alley is an interesting shaped apartment building. This building was originally one of the first churches in the neighbourhood, the St. Claren’s Methodist Church. The steeple from the building is no longer there but the shape of the building remains the same. Here is a description of the church from  “Landmarks of Toronto: ; a collection of historical sketches of the old town of York from 1792 until 1837, and of Toronto from 1834 to 1904″ By J. Ross. Robertson

The First Methodist Church in the Old Brockton Suburb.

In 1882 a mission was begun by the Dundas street Methodist church in Worms Hall, at the corner of Dundas street and Brock avenue. The beginning was a small one, but it developed into a working congregation in a short time, and soon became independent of the parent church. So rapid was the development that it was considered expedient to purchase a lot and build a church. One of the very best locations in Brockton was secured, and a church was built on it on March 17th, 1887. The lot is at the south-west corner of Dundas street and St. Clarens avenue, measuring 128 feet on the latter and 107 feet on the former. The church is a small rough-cast, wooden structure, standing at the southern end of the lot on the avenue. While it is very plain, it is a neat building, surrounded by a white picket fence.


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The National Cash Register Company

222 Lansdowne Avenue

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The National Cash Register Company opened in June 1936 and it was according to it’s ad “one of the most modern industrial plants in the world”.  It’s facade was designed by Thomas Muirhead in the Art Moderne style at a cost of $300 000 and with the company’s growth the building was expanded between 1947 and 1950.  The building was taken over by Knob Hill Farms in the mid-70’s and stayed untl 2000 when they closed along with all the other Knob Hill Farms in Toronto.  The building was designated a heritage property before the current No Frills moved in.   A more in depth article about this building was published in the now defunct Grid magazine.

 


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School 1: Brock Avenue Public School

93 Margueretta Street

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Brock Ave Public school opened in January of 1887 as a result of overcrowding from Mabel St. School (Shirley Street).  The school started with 202 students and 4 teachers and the school’s first principal was Alexander Muir (author of The Maple Leaf Forever).  The land for the school was purchased for $2110.34 and the 4 room structure was built for $9222.35.

By 1919 the building was expanded to 12 rooms and had a 9 room annex and by 1938 the population of the school had grown so much that the original structure had to be torn down and rebuilt.  This is the structure that still stands today.  If you walk in the front doors of the school and up the stairs you will see a memorial for those that fought in the World Wars with an illuminated list designed by A.J.Casson of the Group of Seven.

 


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School 2: Kent Public School

980 Dufferin Street

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Kent opened in 1908 and it was named after Mr. H.A.E Kent, a Toronto trustee for 21 years.  It was designed by Charles Bishop, as Superintendant of Buildings for the Toronto Board of Education designed many of the schools of the Toronto School Board between 1882 and 1915. The school was built on land purchased from Captain John H. Denison who received it as a gift from Govenor Lord Simcoe.   For a time in the early part of the twentieth century Kent was the largest school in all of Canada.

This school as well as Bloor Collegiate next door have been deemed surplus by the Toronto District School Board and put up for sale.  Kent currently houses Toronto School of Art and a private German school.  Originally the corner was thought to be sold privately and turned into a massive condo development but a bid from the Toronto Catholic District School Board, who by law has the right to purchase it at below market value, may change that.  The Catholic School Board needs the space immediately, and with a growing population of Toronto, they say they will need even more space for students in the future.


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School 3: St. Helen’s Catholic School

1196 College Street

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St Helen’s Catholic school was established around the same time as the parish in 1852 and originally existed on the land at Dundas and Lansdowne.  When the Cathedral was built at St. Clarens and Dundas, the school was moved further north and east to the corner of Brock and College Street where it still stands today.  It was designed by Charles Read, who was appointed in 1909 as an Architect to the Roman Catholic Separate School Board and can be credited with the design of many Separate schools in the city between 1910 and 1920.  A new building was erected in 1994 and at that time the original building was refurbished.  On the west side of the building you can still see the signs for the separate Girls and Boys entrances.


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The Brockton Hotel

1555 Dundas Street West

Brockton Hotel, Sheridan & Dundas. - December 22, 1922

The building where the Brockton Hotel still exists at the corner of Sheridan and Dundas West (Kevin’s Convenience lives there today) but any details about the hotel is mystery.   Perhaps it’s a reincarnation of one of the early hotels of Brockton.  There is a post about Brockton on the BlogTO site with some comments from “Paul” who grew up in the neighbourhood and mentions the hotel and the connecting tavern:

Then there was the Brockton beer parlour which I believe was the hotel building that still stands on the south-west corner of Dundas & Sheridan. This was the local watering hole & gathering place for area residents and was a classic “dive”…similar to dozens of others that could be found in neighbourhoods all over the city. A glass of draught in those days was still probably a thin dime and provided much-needed entertainment & escape for the working-class men & women that populated the area. On Saturday afternoons, while my kid brother & I were at the Gem, and my parents had finished the weekly grocery shopping & other chores, they would patronize this joint for a few leisurely hours. I recall them telling me that one of the regular denizens of the pub was the once-great star of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 30’s, “Busher” Jackson. By that time he had sadly been reduced to the status of street bum & hopeless alcoholic…but he was still a colourful character and people would befriend him and buy him drinks just to have him sit at their table.


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The Dundas Playhouse / The Brock / The Gem Movie Theatre

1585 Dundas Street West

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Before Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas West had many different uses.  The building was supposedly built as a Chronicle office in 1862 (the only Chronicle I could find in Toronto at that time was the Trade Review and Insurance Chronicle which eventually turned into the Monetary Times).  For a stretch it became the Dundas Playhouse which had the first burlesque show in Toronto.  In 1936, it was renovated and turned into the Brock Theatre (706 seats) then in 1949 it’s name was changed to the Gem Theatre.  By the early 1960’s the Gem played Italian and Polish films and it eventually closed altogether in 1965 and turned into a banquet hall.  There are photos in the Toronto Archives with the signage “Club Canadiana” and then “Continental Brothers Catering” over the doors.  For a more in depth history of this building see this article.


 Take a tour of these buildings!