Monthly Archives: April 2011

Atelier Cafe Lounge in the Gurney Stove Foundry at King and Brant streets.

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Today I had lunch at Atelier Cafe Lounge on King Street West, located within the building that once housed the nineteenth-century Gurney Stove Foundry. Atelier is a one-of-a-kind cafe, with cozy atmosphere and a unique setting, an ideal place to enjoy a cappuccino or latte and a sandwich. The wallpaper in the cafe remains from the days when the space was a private club. The owners are proud to point out that the wallpaper is a signature feature of the cafe. It is a nineteenth-century pattern, and was popular in the days when the stove foundry was built, even though it would have been out of place in an industrial complex.

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         Interior of the Atelier Cafe Lounge  and its signature wallpaper                   

Gazing at the well-worn oak floors and the massive beams of old-growth pine within the cafe, as I sipped on my coffee, I thought of the history contained within the walls of this magnificent old structure. The following section is from the book “The Villages Within”, and tells about the history of the Gurney Stove Foundry.

The Gurney Stove Foundry, 500–522 King Street, Northeast Corner of King and Brant Streets

The magnificent Victorian buildings, constructed of red and yellow brick, are among the oldest industrial structures in the city. The building on the east (closest to Spadina) is the oldest. With a history that spans almost a century and a half, the E. C. Gurney Company, originated in Hamilton, Ontario. Edward and Charles Gurney manufactured stoves and general castings. When business expanded, the Gurney brothers opened a retail store in Toronto at 91 Yonge Street. Edward Gurney Junior relocated to Toronto to manage the family business in the provincial capital, purchasing a residence at 209 Jarvis Street for his family.

During the 1870s, much of the land along King Street West was vacant, although it was privately owned. Children in the area ran freely in the fields, kicking a ball and shouting to friends to join in their game. In autumn, the grasshoppers flew in clouds as the children raced along the paths among the fields. In winter, they built snow forts, engaged in snowball fights, and employed creative cursing when they received a direct hit in the face. However, it was soon to change, as the natural playground was to be buried beneath an enormous industrial complex.

Intending to build a factory in Toronto, in 1872, the Gurney Company bought several of the lots on King, west of Spadina, and erected a four-storey building. Located on the east side of the property, its brick walls were particularly attractive, especially the yellow-brick designs above the windows and the yellow-brick pilasters (fake columns) that commenced at the ground level and rose to the top of the building. In 1872, the postal address of the factory was 356 King Street, but today it is 500–510 King Street West. They also constructed more buildings to the north of the King Street structures, but they have not survived into the modern era.

When  the building opened, which today has the postal address 500-510 King Street, a newspaper advertisement stated, “Gurney Stove Foundry, manufacturing agent for the famed Buttan Heater.”

The business expanded and in 1887 they constructed a three-storey building to the west of the original site. Its address today is 522 King Street. A narrow laneway separated the two structures. During the following years, other buildings appeared to the north of the original two, but these have since been demolished.

The buildings deteriorated throughout the years ahead and their attractive facades were covered with a tin siding. In the modern era, when its owners decided to restore the buildings, they removed the tin, revealing the attractive brickwork. It now appears as it did in yesteryear. During the restoration, they replaced the cornices on both structures with metal trim.

In the laneway between the two surviving buildings on King Street, they erected a connecting passageway at the second and third-floor levels. Thankfully, it matches the two existing buildings. Today, multiple tenants are located within. With its polished original oak floors and massive wood beams of old-growth Canadian pine, it possesses some of the most handsome nineteenth-century rental spaces in the city.

Viewing these restored buildings today, it is difficult to imagine them being a part of a bustling, sooty, industrial complex, with hundreds of workers labouring in hot, fetid conditions to tend the furnaces, shovelling coal to keep the fires alive. It was an era when workers possessed few rights. Wages were poor and hours were long, usually nine or ten hours a day, six days a week. Lung disease and work-related illnesses were common.

To the modern eye, these factories appear pristine and quaint, their patterned brickwork attractive to behold. The massive pine pillars, visible through the windows of the storefronts, inspire awe. No trees remain in Ontario to obtain such magnificent giants ever again.

No trace remains of the hardworking labourers who once worked on these premises. Evidence of their joys and sorrows has long departed the scene. Only the rattle of the streetcars on the street or the shout of a truck driver remind us of earlier days, when this was a busy industrial complex. The past has departed forever, but evidence of earlier days remains through the presence of these attractive historic buildings.

Nineteenth-Century Pine Beams in the old Gurney Iron Foundry

Photographs below are of the interior of “Patagonia,” a stylish clothing store within the Gurney Stove Foundry,at 500 King St. West.

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Attractive yellow and red brickwork on the facade of the Gurney Iron Foundry

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To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodrome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue


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The War of 1812

April of 2011 marks the 98th anniversary of the battle of York, during the War of 1812. This post contains the tongue-in-cheek section from the book, “The Villages Within” that tells about the event.


The War of 1812

As tension between Great Britain and the United States increased, it was feared that open conflict was pending between Canada and her neighbour to the south. It was far more serious than the perennial argument over whether tea or coffee should be served for breakfast, or if a nation’s head of state should be a president or a king.

In July of the previous year, Major-General Isaac Brock had arrived at York, taking command of the military affairs of the province. He reinforced the fortifications of Fort York, and it is rumoured that he established a pub for the troops. This is this untrue. Perhaps historians misunderstood the meaning of the term “high-spirited troops.”

When Governor Gore returned to England in October of 1811, Isaac Brock became both the civil and military commander, with the title of “President and Administrator,” a rather “republican” title for the chief executive of a royal colony. We do not know if the troops sang “Hail to the Chief” to him when he entered the fort.

The same year Brock entered Upper Canada, a young lieutenant also arrived—James Fitzgibbon. In Europe, both he and Brock had fought in the Napoleonic Wars. Fitzgibbon was one of Brock’s favourite officers, having secured for him several promotions without the usual payment of funds. The residents of York did not consider this unusual. Simcoe had already established the principle of giving “privileges to the privileged.” Brock encouraged Fitzgibbon to pursue private studies to improve his education. Early in the year 1812, Fitzgibbon resigned his army commission to study full time, in hopes of eventually earning further promotions. A few of the more advanced government positions required that a man be intelligently educated.

I believe that in the modern era, this stipulation has been abolished for elected positions in government.

Arriving in Canada with the Forty-ninth Regiment, Brock was an officer of considerable military experience. He commanded much attention, with his striking features, blond hair, and blue eyes. He was over six feet in height, which was unusually tall for these years. In addition to his handsome appearance, he possessed gracious manners, impressing those whom he encountered.

Brock was also immensely popular with the troops, as he did not permit the officers to drill the men for long durations during freezing temperatures and insisted that they be properly clothed and fed. Under his leadership, morale rose and desertion from the ranks ceased. Besides, as they were in the middle of the wilderness, there was nowhere for the men to go.

At the social evenings at Government House, located on the west side of Fort York, the women always eagerly anticipated the commander’s presence. On such occasions, he was attired in the ornate scarlet tunic of a British officer. He wore a white sash around his waist, and a polished silver sword hung from his belt. He was long remembered by those whom he met. Star-struck women said that he was such an excellent horseman that he looked like part of the horse. I am certain that more than a few envious husband agreed, muttering, “He looks like the horse’s rear-end.”


On June 18, 1812, war with the United States commenced. Unlike today, York’s business community did not welcome a summer invasion of Americans charging across the border. After several victories on the battlefield, General Brock was killed at the Battle of Queenston Heights. The news of his death struck the fragile community of York like a thunderbolt. Many feared the war would be lost without his leadership.

In April of 1813, the American sailed across Lake Ontario and attacked York. When it was obvious that the struggle to secure the fort was doomed, the British lit a fuse to the powder magazine and swiftly retreated. When the powder detonated, it rained shrapnel for a radius of over a mile. Very little of Fort York survived. During the years ahead, debris from the explosion was found in the fields and embedded in the trees. It is possible that the older trees of the St. Andrew’s Playground of today were among them, as photographs taken around 1910 reveal that they were already mature tree at that time.

When the American invaders entered the town, they set fire to the parliament buildings and carried away the parliamentary symbol of authority, the “mace.” In addition, while in the building, they discovered the ceremonial wig of the Speaker of the House, and mistakenly thought it was a human scalp. When the troops returned home, they claimed that the British were “scalpers.”

Today, I glow with pride when I see the descendents of these “scalpers” outside the Air Canada Centre, particularly when the Leafs play against the Habs. I have even seen them around the opera house and Roy Thomson Hall. Some unkind souls say that Torontonians will scalp their grandmothers if the price is right. We do indeed honour our traditions.

In addition, today, some state that the infamous wig from the War of 1812 eventually surfaced on the head of Mel Lastman, who wore it honourably and ignored the surreptitious smiles, claiming it was a hair weave. I am certain they are wrong.

In 1934, in honour of the city’s centennial, the mace was returned to Toronto and today is on display at Fort York. No one knows the real location of the speaker’s wig.

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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in Toronto


The Founding of Toronto


This post contains a section from the book “The Villages Within.” It is a tongue-in cheek version of the founding of Toronto.


Those of us who are familiar with the modern metropolis of Toronto, whom its detractors refer to as central Canada’s seething cesspool of sin, may find it difficult to envision it in the days before the Europeans arrived, when it was a tranquil landscape. It was a paradise of nothingness. Some people believe that zilch has changed.

However, in the final decade of the eighteenth century, though the site now occupied by the city was an untamed frontier, among the bushes and old-growth forests something was indeed happening. Native hunters, as well as an occasional fur trapper, were nimbly treading through the thick stands of oak, maple, birch, and pine, peering from behind the undergrowth to locate their quarry. As the land was uninhabited, nobody objected to solitary hunters prancing through the woods, peeking out from behind bushes. The French glorified these intrepid trailblazers in their stories and poems, referring to them as “voyageurs.” The linguistically challenged believe that “voyageurs” translates into English as “voyeurs.” Alas, this is not true! “Voyeurs” prefer to peek into bedroom and bathroom windows.

Following the American Revolutionary War, the tranquility of the virgin landscape changed drastically when a stampede of Loyalists crashed across the Canadian border to escape the revolting colonies to the south. Although these were the days before the devalued Canadian dollar, the pennywise Loyalist entrepreneurs knew a good deal when they heard it—the land in Canada was free.

They never mentioned in history books that even if the Loyalists had not revolted against the British Crown, they too could be revolting, as bathtubs, clean undergarments, and deodorants were in short supply.

When the Loyalists arrived in the Canadian wilderness, they were unable to deceive the hunters and trappers already residing in the colony. They knew that nothing in the world was as vicious as a bunch of over-eager bargain hunters. In addition, these wise sharpshooters realized that even though the new immigrants had declared loyalty to King George III, they had not declared their firearms. The competition for game would soon increase. They feared the consequences of gratuitous land grants combined with too many farmers’ muskets. Many people today believe that the “joining together” of gun-toting Loyalists with free land was the origin the term “shotgun marriages.”*

It is now necessary to provide a little background about the acquisition of the land that became the site of Toronto.

The story begins in 1785, across the briny sea in England. The British government appointed Sir Guy Carlton as governor general of British North America. The following year, they raised him to the peerage as Lord Dorchester, First Baron of Dorchester, in the county of Oxford. Dorchester was quite pleased with his new title. Like most members of the nobility, he knew that it would be an invaluable asset when he arrived in Canada, as colonists were easily impressed with high-sounding titles.

Thus satisfied, he set sail.

Our Lord Dorchester was a real person, not to be confused with hotels and pubs with similar names—the Lord Simcoe, the Lord Elgin, Lord Knows, Lord Forgive Me, and Lord Help Us. We owe Lord Dorchester a great debt of gratitude, as without him, whom would we have named our streets, public squares, cocktail bars, and hotels after?

The tradition of recycling Dorchester’s name continued for many years. A few older Torontonians might remember a stripper who appeared in the 1960s at the infamous Victory Theatre on Spadina Avenue. Her stage name was “Dimples Dorchester.” Today, I wonder if our portly dear Dorchester possessed a few dimples of his own, but sat on his assets, and never revealed their rippling beauty to the courtesans who hung around the governor’s court seeking high-class contacts.

When Dorchester arrived in Canada, the severity of the climate must have shocked him. He likely welcomed the onslaught of a Quebec winter as warmly as the approach of the Bubonic plague. He did not know the French words for “friggin’ cold,” but even he knew what it meant when he saw his frozen underwear standing upright in the morning, even though he was not inside it. 

I hope that he also discovered that dining on steaming bowls of pea soup provided excellent fortification against the freezing winter winds that funnelled down the St. Lawrence River Valley, and that funnelling copious amount of brandy down his throat added to his defences. The heights of Quebec were not the most important protection against the worst invasion that each year attacked the colony—a Canadian winter.

Compared to the milder climate of the British Isles, Canada was indeed a hostile environment. Lord Dorchester suffered greatly during the dark days of winter, and longed to return to the shores of Mother England. Inside the governor’s residence, gazing out the small panes of glass, frosted by the freezing cold, he despaired at the sight of the endless drifts of snow. He likely thought that the gods of “good times” had deserted him. However, eventually, the land warmed and the trees once more displayed hints of greenery.

In the spring of 1787, Dorchester was in an optimistic mood, as his head had cleared of the brandy and his underwear had thawed. He dispatched Deputy Surveyor-General John Collins to the Toronto Carrying Place to negotiate a major real estate deal.

I do not know if John Collins was related to “Tom Collins.” I Googled “Tom Collins” but was unable to discover any relationship. However, I found a Web site extolling the virtues of the cocktail referred to as a “Tom’s Collins”, a mixture of gin, lemon juice, sugar, and soda water. I concluded that if Tom had existed in the eighteenth century, he would have been too busy at the bar mixing the drink named in his honour to have answered the call of duty from our dear Lord Dorchester.

In 1787, John Collins set forth, and by early July was sailing along the north shore of Lake Ontario in the good ship, Seneca. Finally, early one morning, Collins arrived in Toronto harbour and ordered the ship’s crew to drop anchor. Standing on deck, he must have pondered his dilemma. Dorchester had instructed him to negotiate a major land deal, but there were no real estate companies to be found. Furthermore, they had not yet invented the “Multiple Listing Service,” and anyway, if he had heard the term, he would have assumed it merely meant multiple scribbling on latrine walls.

As a result, Collins decided to follow the only course open to him. He opened his own office on the deck of the ship and extended an invitation to three Mississauga Indian chiefs to lunch with him. Mighty Chief Mayor Hazel McCallion of Mississauga fame, though a great leader, was not among them.

Because it was a hot summer afternoon, before discussing the transaction he most likely ordered an alcoholic repast. For obvious reasons, Tom Collins was unavailable, so he probably demanded that a crewmember, perhaps with a name like Daiquiri Dick, deliver the drinks to the deck. Collins had learned from Dorchester that “booze” anaesthetized a person from the heat as well as the cold.

Perhaps this was the origin of Toronto’s infamous tradition of the “martini lunch.” Without these, the commerce of the city would be paralyzed.

I am confident that Collins poured the alcoholic drinks generously. By the time they reached an agreement, I think they were likely buzzed. How else can we explain that the chiefs consented to sell 250,880 acres for the pitiful sum of seventeen hundred pounds? The huge tract of land extended northward from Lake Ontario and included the site of the Toronto as we know it today. It became known as the “Toronto Purchase.” It does not surprise me that the land north of Sudbury was not included in the deal. Nobody wanted it.

A few trade goods were included in the deal, and I suspect that among them were several bottles of strong drink. After all, by now everyone knew that his majesty’s booze provided excellent insulation against the cold winter months, generating more heat than buckskin underwear.

This story illustrates the point that important negotiations should never be concluded during a martini lunch. However, we should be grateful for Collins’ efforts, as it was likely the last time that a government official in Canada purchased anything with taxpayers’ funds and received a bargain. Had government consultants been available, they would have caused the price of the land to inflate significantly.

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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in Toronto


Kensington Market – Part 4 – Victorian Home on Wales Avenue

Discovering the Kensington Market, a Village Within the city! 

This post examines two Victorian “Bay and Gable” houses on Wales Avenue.



  9 Wales Avenue 


9 Wales Avenue

This fine example of a “Bay and Gable” house, a style of domestic architecture that originated in Toronto, was constructed in 1890.  The style was copied by many towns and cities throughout Canada. It was popular during the latter decades of the nineteenth as it contained large bay windows that allowed generous lighting to brighten the interior, in an era without electricity. The bay windows on the first floor of 9 Wales Avenue soar upward to the peak of the gable. Hence the name, “Bay and Gable.”
When the construction of 9 Wales Avenue was completed in 1890, Simon Foster, a grocer by trade, occupied the premises. Five years later, he vacated the house as he had purchased a building at 790 College Street to open his own store. He decided to live in the apartment above the store. 

Percy P. Kerwin bought 9 Wales in 1895. In 1903, John M. Mains, a professional engineer, became its occupant. 



The trim around the top of the gable a 9 Wales Avenue has been modernized.


 The other Victorian house on the south side of Bellevue Square that interested me was 7 Wales Avenue.


7 Wales Avenue

Similar to the other houses on the south side of Bellevue Square, 7 Wales Avenue was built in 1890. Mrs. Mary Foster, a widow, purchased the home. It would be interesting to know if she was related to Simon Foster, who moved into the house next to her in the same year. Mary was the widow of Charles P. Foster. He and his business partner owned a “fancy goods” store at 51 Yonge Street. It was likely a quite successful business, as when Charles Foster died, his widow was able to afford this large “Bay and Gable” home. The pediment (triangle) at the top of the soaring gable retains its original trim, as does the street-level porch. 

DSCN1318 Living in a decade devoid of government support systems, it was likely necessary that Mary live a frugal lifestyle. However, the location of her home made life a little easier for her. It was an era when neighbours readily assisted each other, and she lived in a close-knit community. As well, she was within walking distance of the shops on Spadina Avenue and Queen Street West.

We can imagine her departing from her home each morning to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as to purchase meat or fish. Because it was an era without refrigerators, most residents of the city shopped daily to avoid food from spoiling.

It is easy to imagine guests arriving at 7 Wales Avenue, and ascending the steps to the small veranda to attend an afternoon tea hosted by Mary. Today, the veranda has a fine view of the scene across the street in Bellevue Square. Mary would likely be shocked to see the square today, and I doubt that she would have approved of the “pot party” that was held there during the great blackout of 2003. On the other hand, who knows?




The small veranda at 7 Wales Avenue        



The peak of the home’s gable, with its half sun-burst trim at the lower corners



The homes I would like to share on my next post are on Augusta Avenue, on the east side of Bellevue Square.


Kensington Painting


Kensington Fruit Market, at the corner of Kensington and St. Andrew’s avenues.

Acrylic on stretched canvas, 16” by 20 “

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Posted by on April 8, 2011 in Toronto