Monthly Archives: October 2015

Stories from old Toronto postcards


Old Toronto postcards sometimes reveal lovers’ quarrels and family squabbles, as well as mundane messages. It was necessary to be discreet, since the cards were seen by postal employees, including the local mailman. When viewing the material written on postcards of yesteryear, they appear similar to those sent in emails, or posted on Facebook and Twitter. Some of the messages are like the texts of today, though texts use more abbreviations.

I have been collecting old postcards of Toronto for many years; the postcard shown above is from my collection. It contains a view of Queen Street West, looking east from James Street, toward Yonge Street, about the year 1910. It was produced by Valentine and Sons’ Publishing Company, the most prolific marketer of postcards in the city during the first two decades of the 20th century. In the photo, on the left-hand side, to the east of the Adam’s Furniture Store, is the old Eaton’s Queen Street store, which was demolished to create the south section of the Eaton Centre of today. On the right-hand side of the photograph is the former Simpson’s Department store, which is now the Bay, at Queen and Yonge. The streetcar is a wooden car operated by the Toronto Street Railway Company, which provided city public transit until the TTC was created in 1921.


The Rosehill Reservoir Park is located southeast of the intersection of Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue East (part of David Balfour Park). This card was mailed on July 27, 1906, to Mr. Norman Pascoe, who address was simply, “Lake Front at Kew Beach.” On the card the sender wrote: “ Dear Norman. We will meet you at Kippen Avenue at seven p.m. Wednesday next, if convenient. If not, please let us know. Yours truly, “Moonlight” 27/7/06.” Note: A hint of mystery is attached to this message, since the names of the senders are disguised. Why were they meeting?


This postcard was mailed on June 1, 1939 to Miss Darling of Stockwell London, England. View looks north on Bay Street from King Street. A woman named Marjorie sent it from West Toronto. She writes: “Having a wonderful time. Have met Ivy, Doris, Fred, Uncle Eddie, and Aunt Annie and other friends in Toronto. We are on the boat on Lake Ontario and going to Niagara. Weather very hot.” The card was signed, “Love from Marjorie.” Note: Shorten this message slightly and it could be a text.


On the reverse side of Marjory’s postcard, sent in 1939, are postage stamps depicting Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. The cost of postage was 2 cents.


This view of Toronto harbour is on a postcard mailed on August 2, 1908. Written on the card is: “Had a fine ride on the Lake this morning. It is beautiful. Hope all are well and getting a long all right.” The card was signed, “Lillie.” In the picture, on the right-hand side of the skyline is the spire of St. James Cathedral on King Street East. On the reverse side of the card is a one-cent postage stamp commemorating the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec—1608-1908.


This card was mailed from Toronto on June 14, 1909, by a young woman named Sarah, who sent it to Mrs. C. Everingham at Parry Harbour Ontario. She wrote: “Dear Mother, am well, hope you are the same. Mother could you send me $1.00 right away so I could get it Saturday. Well I am so home sick to see yous all again. I can hardly write Mother. Send me the price to go if you want me but send me the dollar for I need it badly.” The card was signed, “From Sarah xxx.” Note: The wording of the message is rather confusing but Sarah’s needs are quite clear.

The view on the card depicts Centre Island, likely from the shoreline of Long Pond looking west as there is a wooden bridge in the background. This bridge was later replaced by one constructed of stone.


Sarah of Toronto sent this card on July 31, 1911. She wrote: “Dear cousin, We had a nice trip home, had dinner and tea at Mrs. Shepphard’s and then came down on the 7 o’clock boat. Found all well at home. Sister wants you to arrive, she wants to see you. Hope that Mr. Wossack is still getting on fine. Remember us to all with best. Kindness and Friendship.” The card was signed, “Yours, Sarah.” The view on the card looks westward across the picnic grounds at Hanlan’s point toward the lake.


This exceptionally fine view of Toronto Street looks north from near King Street East toward Adelaide Street East. The Toronto Seventh Post Office, with its columned portico is visible on the left-hand side (west side) of the street. It is one of the few buildings on the street that still exists today. The card was mailed by Nellie from Toronto on February 25, 1908 to Mrs. Fred Battle in Bowmanville, Ont.  It reads: “Dear Mildred, would you cut me a pattern of a skirt for me. Will pay you for it, 22 waist, medium 38 length, a plain full skirt print for the house. I like them pretty full and if you would pin the seams together as I don’t know any other patterns putting them together unless they are put together. I can make them then.” The card was signed, “Nellie.” Note: I hope that Mrs. Battle understood the card’s instructions better than I did.


This postcard shows the Amusement Park at the famous Sunnyside Beach, often referred to as “The poor man’s Riviera.” It was where each spring Toronto’s Easter Parade was held on the boardwalk, visible on the left-hand side of the photo. The view faces west, the waters of the lake to the south (left) of the boardwalk (not visible in the photo). The large structure in the photo with the red domed roof is the merry-go-round (carousel). When Sunnyside amusement park was demolished in the 1950s, the ride was shipped to Disneyland in California. In the foreground is Lakeshore Boulevard. The postcard was mailed on August 27, 1927, sent to “Master Elmer Morley, Sub. P.O. Ford City, Ontario.” The card reads: “ We arrived in Toronto all right and found Millers all well. We expect to go to exhibition on Monday.” The card is unsigned.


This card is likely from around the year 1920. There is no date or message on it as it was never sent to anyone. The view faces east toward the pedestrian bridge over Long Pond. The women seated on the bench in the foreground are formally attired, the usual custom until the late 1940s, when men wore shirts and ties when attending picnics, the CNE or an evening stroll.


This postcard depicts the ruins of a grist mill on the west bank of the Humber River. The card was mailed on July 12, 1907, prior to building the Old Mill Tea Garden and Restaurant, which was constructed beside the ruins in 1914. The card was sent to Miss Arrabel Ellis of Fenelon Falls. Ontario. It reads: “Dear Belle, I hear you are having quite a holiday this summer. You certainly had a nerve coming to Toronto and not the Junction. They wouldn’t give me your message.” It was signed, “Gerald.” Note: There seems to be some frustration and disappointment expressed on the part of Gerald. Lovers’ quarrel?


This card with the delightful scene of Toronto harbour was mailed from the city on October 3, 1906. It was sent to Daisy Alberta Shepp at 929 E. King Street, York, Pennsylvania. U.S. A. There was no message on the card and it was unsigned.


The view on this card faces south on Sherbourne Street. Sherbourne and Church Streets were among the first in the city to have electrically-powered streetcars. The card was mailed on June 7, 1905 to Miss A. B. Ellis, MacDonald Hall, Guelph, Ont. It reads: “Am sorry you will not be at my tea. We will miss you. Do not get lonesome.” It was signed, “May.”


The first buildings on the site shown above was in 1838, when Captain Dick, a wealthy steamboat captain, constructed four brick townhouses. In 1856, Mr. Sword bought the houses and converted them into a hotel. In 1859, Captain Dick reappeared on the scene, bought the hotel, and renamed it the Queen’s. It became the city’s most elite hostelry and dining establishment. The future King George V, when he was the Prince of Wales, stayed at the Queen’s, as did several American presidents. The closing of the Queen’s in 1927 was the end of an era and the beginning of a new. The Royal York Hotel was built on the site by Canadian Pacific Hotels, a division of the Canadian Pacific Railways. 

The postcard was mailed on May 25, 1907 to Johann Laemmersamn of 2 Front Street, Watertown N. Y. It reads: “I am pleased with the pretty cards you sent.” It was signed, “Mr. Young.”


This lithograph of Union Station on Front Street was mailed from Niagara Falls N. Y. on July 15, 1922. The station did not open until 1927, so the card was likely based on the architect’s sketches. The card was sent by Lottie to Miss Irma Chaplin of Jefferson, Ohio. It reads: “Toronto, Canada, July 14, 1922—Here today and there tomorrow. And it’s all wonderful. You ought to see it for yourself.” The card was signed, “Lottie” 


This card was mailed from Hamilton, Ontario, on October 3, 1908. It was sent to Miss M. Eubank of Willoro Grove, Ontario. It reads: “Received letter but it was a long time in coming. Send me a card when you are coming down so I can go down to see you. Bring me some apples and beech nuts. I wish I was there to gather some. Miss H. will be down Friday, down to see her Sunday afternoon and Miss G. for tea. To church twice. Am going to write to Aunt Mary tonight.”


This card depicts the Prince George Hotel on the northwest corner of King Street West and York Street. The card was mailed on February 4, 1913 to Mr. Floyd Gage, at 63 Penn Avenue, Binghamton N. Y. It reads: “Friend Floyd: I have been here a long time working with the Bowles Ltd., a large lunch concern and I am now receiving good pay. Am well and hope you are the same.” It is signed, “Your old friend, Samuel B. Wishart, 98 Mutual Street.” Perhaps the “Bowles Ltd.” that Samuel refers to was Bowles Lunch (restaurant) on the southeast corner of Bay and Queen Street West, across from today’s Old City Hall. 



This card depicts the boardwalk along the south shore of Centre Island that leads to Ward’s Island. The card was never mailed, but written in pencil on the back is: “November 30, 1908—to William from Grandpa.” Little William likely was handed the card as there are child’s scribbles in pencil all over the back of the card.  


This card was mailed from Portsmouth, England on November 13, 1915. It was sent to Miss Coles of 14 Craubury Avenue, Southhampton. It reads: “Saturday—M. D. A. We are leaving Portsmouth by the 8:55 train Sun. and look forward to seeing you all.” It is signed, “With love, Nellie.” It is assumed that Nellie or someone she knew had visited Toronto and purchased the card. The street in the upper right-hand corner is identified as “Pembroke Street. In the bottom right-hand corner is Wilton Street. The other streets are not named.


This intriguing postcard was mailed on September 9, 1918 by Royal Air Force Cadet #171953 #4 Div. Toronto. It was sent to Mrs. Georgette R. Prince, Suite 25, Arlington Block, Edmonton, Alberta. The message on the card was written in French. I wish I were able to translate it as war-time messages are particularly important in preserving the memories of difficult times in Canada’s history.

The churches depicted on the card are: clockwise from the left-hand corner, St. James Cathedral on King Street east, Holy Blossom Synagogue on Bathurst Street, Metropolitan United on Queen Street East, St. Michael’s on Bond Street, Jarvis Street Baptist, Knox Presbyterian on Spadina, and the Bond Street Congregational Church at Bond and Dundas Street East (now demolished).  


The card was mailed from Orillia, Ontario on November 10, 1955. It was sent to Miss Margaret Henry, 30 Annendale, Apt. 3, Kingston, Ontario. The picture is of Sick Children’s Hospital on University Avenue. The card reads: “ Dear Margaret, I have just returned home from Toronto. The David Scott’s address is 9809 19th Avenue North East, Seattle, Washington U. S. A. If Stanley would care to call on them? And do you still want Grey Squirrel for your coat?” The card is signed, “From E. Buchauau.” Note: A grey squirrel coat?

The cards that follow were never mailed so they have no messages or postage stamps on them to determine when they were purchased.


Toronto’s Old City Hall, after the gargoyles had been removed from the tower as they were in danger of falling into the street below.


          Children’s Playground on the west side of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion


Yonge Street in 1915, gazing north toward the College and Carlton Street intersection. The building on the left-hand side, with the rounded flat-topped towers, is the Odd Fellows Hall, built between 1891 and 1892. The streetcar in the distance that is making a right-hand turn from College Street, to proceed south on Yonge, is negotiating a jog in the roadway. This jog was eliminated when Eaton’s College Street was built in 1929, and Yonge Street was straightened. The clock tower of the old St. Charles Tavern is visible in the distance, on the west side of Yonge. The streetcar is a wooden car operated by the Toronto Railway Company. The TTC took over the system in 1921. The buildings on the west side of Yonge street, south of College, were demolished to erect the Eaton’s College Street Store. 


When the Royal York opened on June 11, 1929, it was the tallest building in the city. The hotel’s architects were Ross and Macdonald, with the firm of Sproat and Rolph. They chose the “Chateau Style, reflecting the latest Art Deco trends of the 1920s. The Royal York possesses a copper roof and touches of the Romanesque in the many arched windows in its podium. The 28-storey building originally had 1048 rooms.


The Royal Ontario Museum when its main entrance was on Queen’s Park. The Park Plaza Hotel is in the background, to the north of the museum.


Construction on the Eaton’s College Street store commenced in 1928 and it opened on October 30, 1930. The magnificent structure, the jewel in the crown of the retail empire of the T. Eaton Company, was designed in the Stripped Classical design that reflected Italian Art Deco styles of the period. The building’s architects were the firm of Ross and Macdonald, in association with Sproatt and Rolph. The store was intended to appeal to affluent customers. Unfortunately, by the time the Eaton’s College store opened, the Great Depression had descended across the nation.


Church street, where electric streetcar first appeared in 1891.  The view is looking south.


This view of the Humber Valley was taken after 1914, as in this year a stone bridge was built over the river to replace the former wooden structure destroyed by an ice storm. The Old Mill Tea Garden (the Old Mill Restaurant of today) opened in 1914, prior to the stone bridge being constructed. It is in the photo, but is barely visible as it was a small structure compared to the vast complex of today’s Old Mill Restaurant. 


In this view, the Royal York Hotel and the Bank of Commerce dominate the skyline. On the far left-hand side is the Terminal Building, now the Queen’s Quay Terminal. The cannon in the foreground remains at Centre Island but is now located near the ferry terminal.


This photo of the Ford Hotel may create memories for a few people. This hostelry was once among the finest in the city. Some may also remember the Murray Restaurants that were in several locations throughout the city. The Ford Hotel was located at Bay and Dundas Streets, across from the bus terminal. Unfortunately it eventually became rather shabby. It was finally closed and demolished.

A link to a previous post that explores the history of postcards in Canada:

To view the Home Page for this blog:

A link to view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern.

A link to view posts that explore Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

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 by 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 Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 130 archival photographs.

A second publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 










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Postcards depicting Toronto’s past

Old City hall  1910, TRL. pcr-2198[1]

The Toronto Public Library system has many resources that can be accessed online. Because of my interest in the city’s past, I frequently search the materials available in their vast digital collection for posts for this blog. To access the collection of postcards, google : “Digital Archives Toronto Public Library.” Then enter into the topic box, “Toronto Postcards.” There are over 1200 postcards of Toronto available for viewing, dated between 1909 and 1999, many of them published by Valentine and Son’s.  

Another great source of Toronto postcards online is chuckman’ I have frequently used this collection as well, and I am very grateful that Mr. Chuckman allows them to be accessed by the public on his WordPress web site. It’s a great collection.

The above postcard of the Old City Hall at Queen and Bay Streets is from the Toronto Public Library collection. The card dates from 1910, before the cenotaph was erected in front of the building. Below are a few more postcards from the Toronto Public Library collection.

1st grandstand 1923, TRL. pc68[1]

             This postcard of the first grandstand at the CNE in 1923.

1910, Grenadier Pond  TRL. pcr-2201[1]

Looking toward the west bank of Grenadier Pond in High Park in 1910. The name on the card, “Howard Lake,” is not familiar to me.

                   City Hall and Temple Blg. 1910, TRL. pcr-2200[1]

Looking north on Bay Street in 1910, the Old City Hall visible in the background.

Csa Loma Stables, pcr-2152[1]

                       Horse stables at Casa Loma, c. 1910.

Bank of Toronto, King and Bay, 1910, TRL.  pcr-2167[1]

Bank of Toronto at King and Bay Streets. This building has been demolished.

Massey Hall  1910, TRL. pcr-2207[1]

Massey Hall on Shuter Street c. 1910, prior to the ugly fires escape being added to its facade. The hall is presently being restored.

Old Tor. Ref. Lib. 1910, TRL. pcr-2161[1]

The old Toronto Reference Library in 1910 on College Street at St. George. The first exhibitions of the art society that became the AGO were held in this building.

A link to a previous post that explores the history of postcards in Canada:

To view the Home Page for this blog:

A link to view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern.

A link to view posts that explore Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

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 by 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 Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 130 archival photographs.

A second publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 



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Toronto’s golden age of postcards

Old City hall  1910, TRL. pcr-2198[1]

Postcard depicting the Old City Hall, Toronto in 1910. Photo Toronto Public Library, pck-2198

Postcards have lost their importance in today’s world. They are rarely sent or received, although they are still displayed on racks outside stores in the downtown areas where tourists are likely to stroll. Similarly, the role of Christmas cards in the yuletide season has diminished. Birthday cards, Valentines and Easter cards have also become less popular as people switch to electronic cards or Facebook for messaging. People today prefer the instant communication of social media. Other factors that have hastened the demise of greeting cards and postcards are their cost and Canada’s expensive postal rates.

It is a pity that hand-written messages on cards have become obsolete. Emails or posts on Facebook and blogs have their appeal, but there is something to be said for seeing the handwriting of the sender. Postcards from overseas have the added attraction of containing colourful stamps, and the pictures on the postcards provide images of where the sender is visiting or living. They are genuine artefacts from other parts of Canada and around the world.

Old Toronto postcards chronicle a pictorial history of the city and have become collector’s items. In past decades, only coins and stamps were more popular as collectors’ items than postcards. Collecting them is referred to as “deltiology,” from the Greek word “deltos” for a writing tablet. For many decades, picture postcards were the most popular souvenirs of travellers and tourists. 

In the early years of the 20th century, few people owned telephones. The postal system was the quickest and cheapest form of communication. Mail delivery was six days a week, twice each day: one delivery in the morning and another in the afternoon. If a person mailed a postcard before 11 am, same-day delivery was guaranteed. A person was able to send a card in the morning to arrange a meeting in the late-afternoon or evening of the same day. Postcards required mere minutes to write and the postage was a mere penny. They were handy when a letter was not required. In past decades, the post office placed ads in Toronto newspapers to remind people that on Christmas Day, there would be a morning delivery only. Today, it is difficult to believe that such service was once the norm.

Postcards allowed people to keep in touch, especially with those who lived in the suburban areas of the city. For example, it was difficult for people living above the Davenport Road hill in the Earlscourt District, which centred on St. Clair and Dufferin Streets, to journey to the city below the hill. It was 1913 before streetcar service was available on St. Clair Avenue, connecting residents to the downtown. Prior to the streetcar line being built, to travel downtown, people walked down Dufferin Street, descending the hill to Davenport Road. Then, they continued south to Dufferin and Dupont Street (then named Van Horne), where they climbed aboard a streetcar that went downtown. The return journey was even more arduous, especially in winter, as it meant climbing the steep hill.

Before postcards were introduced there were “picture envelopes,” which were pre-printed and possessed attractive scenes. People inserted their letters in these envelopes. In 1871, the Canadian post office issued blank cards with stamps printed on them. The address to which the card was being sent was placed on the stamped side of the card, and on the other side was written a message. Businesses employed these cards to arrange appointments, confirm orders, and arrange deliveries. In 1897, lithographed or engraved pictures were allowed on one side of the cards, but there were no photos. In 1898, the post office legalized sending private cards in the mail. People were now able to take negatives of their favourite personal photos to drug stores and have copies printed from them in the format of postcards. These cards allowed families to keep in touch with friends and family members, as well as announce family events such as births and weddings.

In 1903, the format of the postcards changed again, appearing similar in design to those of today. A picture was on one side of the card and on the other, a vertical line separated the space for the address from the space allotted for the message. These were the cards that remained highly popular until the age of the internet.


This postcard, mailed in 1906, is intriguing, as it was sent to arrange a meeting, but the signature of the sender was disguised. The address in Kew Beach is quite simple compared with today’s addresses in this area of Toronto.

Bay St. Wharf  1910, TRL. pcr-2137[1]

A 1910 postcard of the Bay Street Wharf, with the spire of St. James Cathedral in the background. Toronto Public Library, pcr-2137.

               City Hall and Temple Blg. 1910, TRL. pcr-2200[1] 

Postcard of looking north on Bay Street from Richmond Street in 1910. Toronto Public Library pcr-2201.

Niagara boat at Toronto 1910 TRL.  pcr-2142[1]

A 1910 postcard depicting the arrival of the boat from Niagara at the Yonge Street wharf. Toronto Public Library, pcr-2142.

                311 Jarvis Street, photo by H.j. Fleming, 44 Ann St. Tor.  

This postcard was printed from a negative in the woman’s personal photograph collection. It was mailed in 1910 to the woman’s family in Ireland. She had immigrated to Canada and secured employment as a domestic in a house at 311 Jarvis Street. The card was printed for her by H.J. Fleming of 44 Ann Street, Toronto.


In 1914, she mailed this card to her family in Ireland. It contained a photo of her daughter, Ruth.

DSCN9509  DSCN9510

This postcard contains a photo of the woman’s house at 212 Perth Street. In 1918, she mailed copies of this card to relatives and friends, but kept a copy for herself. Ruth and her sister are sitting at the top of the veranda steps.

Series 1172, Valentine 6 Dessigns    DSCN9508

A valentine (left) and a birthday card (right), postcards that were mailed in 1927.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

A link to view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern, and Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

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 by 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 Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016, entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” 

“Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press, explores 75 of the city’s heritage buildings. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 


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Memories of Eaton’s Queen Street Store Toronto

View of construction site and Eaton's Queen Street store – April 16, 1975

The Eaton’s Queen Street Store on April 16, 1975. The view looks south on Yonge Street toward Queen Street, the east facade of the Simpson’s Store (now The Bay) visible in the distance. Behind  the white hoarding, to the north of the Eaton’s Store (in the foreground), construction is underway for the northern part of the Eaton Centre. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, FL 0084, Item 62.

The Eaton’s Queen Street store occupied an entire city block, which was bounded by Yonge, Queen, Albert and James Streets. It was one of the most magnificent retail stores ever built in Canada. I was a young man when it was demolished to build the Eaton Centre, and I must confess that I did not lament its demise, despite having wonderful childhood memories of visiting it. Similar to most Torontonians in the 1970s, I was looking forward to the modern shopping mall that was to replace it and was too obsessed with the future to consider preserving the past. I now regret that I did not pay more attention and take photographs of it before it disappeared in 1977.

The northern half of the Eaton Centre, containing the new Eaton store, opened the same year that demolition commenced on the Queen Street store. The southern half of the Centre opened two years later. In future years, it became obvious that the Centre’s Yonge-Street facade had caused the street beside it to deteriorate, as it was a barren wall of concrete, devoid of stores with windows. Many millions of dollars were spent to renovate it to duplicate what the former Eaton’s store had always provided. How much better it would have been if the architects had paid more attention to the facade of the old Eaton’s Queen Street store. Attractive shops at street level provide a more inviting streetscape, and streets that are inviting attract shoppers, customers for restaurants, and tourists.

When I was a teenager in the 1950s, I considered the T. Eaton Company so immense that it seemed indestructible. It was a retail and manufacturing empire, spanning the nation from Atlantic to Pacific. When it disappeared, in today’s terms, it was akin to Tim Horton’s, Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s, the NHL, or Canadian Tire disappearing from the scene. Similarly, when I attended Shea’s Hippodrome, the University Theatre, and the Odeon Carlton or the Odeon Hyland, I never dreamt that in the years ahead, they would all disappear. Only the facade of the University remains to remind us of the days when Toronto included many Canadian-owned commercial enterprises, including the largest of them all—Eaton’s.

DSCN0669  series 881, File 337

Shea’s Theatre (left) on Bay Street near Queen, and the University Theatre (right) on Bloor Street West.

Eaton’s was a retail success story that commenced in 19th-century Toronto. It became one of the most trusted and respected firms in Canada. Its founder, Timothy Eaton, was born in Ireland in 1834 and immigrated to Canada West (Ontario) in 1854, settling in the southwest part of the province. He relocated to Toronto in 1869 and opened a wholesale business on Front Street, near Yonge. However, later in the year, he moved into a rental property at 178 Yonge Street, near the corner of Queen Street, and opened a retail dry goods shop.

In the 1860s, King Street was the main shopping avenue of Toronto. The streets north of King possessed mostly pedestrian traffic, although there were horse-drawn streetcars on Yonge Street, between King Street and the village of Yorkville. The wealthy in their fancy carriages did not often venture as far north as Queen. However, Timothy was more interested in the masses than the wealthy. During the next few years, his store lured shoppers north to Queen Street. Due ever-increasing sales, Eaton’s shop was extended 40 feet to the rear and then, it leased the second-storey apartment above the store. It was said that Timothy paid the drivers of the horse-drawn streetcars to announce at the appropriate time in the journey—“Queen Street, all out for Eaton’s.”

Timothy soon outgrew the building at 178 Yonge, and in 1883, he relocated to 190-196 Queen Street, a short distance north. He now had 52 feet of frontage on Yonge Street, which provided 25,000 square-feet of retail space. His new shop possessed exceptionally tall plate-glass windows, vastly improving the displays of merchandise. This was a new concept, as although many shops at the time contained large windows, they had numerous small panes of glass.

Timothy’s merchandising methods, however, were far more revolutionary. He ended the system of bargaining for the price of goods; he sold all items at an advertised fixed price. The store offered no credit, but if customers were not satisfied with their purchases, the items were either exchanged or the money refunded. Customers were also invited to enter the shop to browse, and were not asked to leave if they did not purchase anything within a reasonable period of time, as occurred in other stores. The public quickly warmed to these new ideas and began flocking to the store. 

In 1884, Eaton’s acquired its first telephone. Also, an overhead pneumatic tube system was installed. A bill for a purchase and the customer’s cash were placed in a small container and sent through a pressurized tube to a central service counter. The container was returned with the customer’s change and a receipt for the goods. I remember watching this system in operation in the 1940s in the Eaton’s Annex store on Albert Street.

In 1886, having grown to employ 1500  employees, Timothy acquired space on Queen Street West, with a frontage of 31 feet. This doubled Timothy’s retail space. Eaton’s now possessed an “L-shaped” configuration, with an entrance on Yonge and another on Queen Street. The same year, Eaton’s installed its first elevator. As a boy, I remember the elevators at Eaton’s, operated by women in uniforms, who wore white gloves. They called aloud the floors and stated the goods available on each floor. To allow customers to exit or enter the elevator, the operator opened a heavy cage-like set of iron bars that folded back, accordion-style, and then manipulated the actual elevator doors.

The same year, Eaton’s commenced closing on Saturday afternoons during July and August to allow employees to enjoy the summer weather. To compensate, special sales were held on Fridays. Other stores remained open all day on Saturdays during the summer, but their profits were less. My great Uncle Jim worked at Eaton’s in the 1920s, and was extremely loyal to the company as he had a cottage in Long branch. He was grateful to be able to depart to visit it on Saturday afternoons, during the summer months. Today, it is difficult to imagine Long Branch as cottage country.

In 1889, Eaton’s expanded with another section added to the complex, its west facade on James Street and its north facade on Albert Street. Next, the retail space on Queen Street was doubled in size. In 1891, restaurants were added to the complex, including the Grill Room on the fifth floor and the “Quick Lunch Room” in the basement. Next, a grocery department was opened in the basement. Two years later, a four-storey addition on Albert Street extended the retail space of the store. In 1896, the section on Queen Street was increased to four storeys. In 1903, the mail-order department relocated from the main store to its own building on Albert Street.

The year 1905 was when the first Santa Claus Parade was held. By 1907, Eaton’s owned 22 acres of property in downtown Toronto, its retail space within the city-block bounded by Yonge, Albert, James and Queen Streets. Only the small building on the northwest corner of Yonge and Queen was not part of the complex. A building to showcase furniture was acquired on the northwest corner of James and Albert Streets. In 1924, the Georgian Room opened on the ninth floor of Eaton’s; many considered it Toronto’s first fine restaurant.

                         1906, Easter decoratuon, Queen St.  I0016062[1]

       Easter Display in the Eaton’s Store in 1906. Photo, Ontario Archives.

Fonds 1244, Item 1160A 

Looking north on James Street in 1910, toward Albert Street. Old City Hall is on the left-hand side (west) and Adam’s Furniture Store on the right-hand side (east). Eaton’s eventually acquired the furniture store as well. Toronto Archives, F. 1244, Item 1160a.


Statue of Timothy Eaton presented by the store’s employees in 1919. It was located near the Queen Street entrance. When the Eaton Centre was built, it was relocated to the Dundas Street entrance of the store. Today it resides in the basement of the Royal Ontario Museum. It was said that rubbing the toe of the shoe of the bronze figure brought a person good luck. Photo from Wikipedia. 

Fonds 1244, Item 1160B

Same view of James Street as the 1910 photo, but taken in 1920. In this picture, in the distance, the Eaton’s Furniture Store is visible on the northwest corner of Albert and James Streets. Toronto Archives, F. 1244, Item 1160b.

Wikipedia  Eatonstoronto1920MainStore[1]

                         Post card showing the Eaton’s complex in 1920.

Queen St, east, from James, traffic, noon - 1 p.m., (Executive Department) – August 31, 1929

The view is looking east along Queen Street West toward Yonge Street in 1929. The Eaton’s store is on the left, and Simpson’s (The Bay) on the right. On the north facade of Simpson’s there is a large Union Jack and a banner fluttering over the street that advertises the CNE. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 7175.

North, on Yonge, from north of Queen, 1:37 p.m., no rush hour parking on east side frees extra street space for use of rush hour moving traffic, (Traffic Study Department) – January 12, 1929

View looks north on Yonge Street from near Queen Street on January 12, 1929. Loew’s Yonge Street Theatre (now the Elgin) is on the right, and the Eaton’s store is on the left. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 6569. 

1939, Georgian Room, 9th floor. I0016064[1]

The Georgian Room in 1939. An orchestra played here while customers dined. Photo Ontario Archives.


The Yonge Street facade of the Eaton’s store decorated for the coronation in 1953. Photo, Ontario Archives.

View of sale signs displayed along Queen Street Eaton's store windows – April 5, 1977

The south facade of the Eaton store on Queen Street on April 5, 1977. Signs in the windows advertise the final sales before the store closed for demolition. Toronto Archives, F 1526, fl 0085, item 9.

Personal Memories of Eaton’s

I was a young boy in the 1940s, and my first memory of the T. Eaton Company was the catalogue that my mother carefully examined each November, prior to our trip downtown to shop for Christmas. It was glossy and colourful, and for me, the section advertising toys particularly exciting. On the day we finally journeyed downtown, my brother and I thought that riding the old square-shaped Yonge Streetcars was part of the adventure. I especially enjoyed the trailer-cars as they swayed considerably as they rattled their way south toward Queen. If we were lucky, we found a place to sit near the coal stove, which was situated in the centre of the streetcar.

After arriving at Eaton’s, my mother examined goods on the ground-floor level and then, we went to the basement. This was where there was a tunnel under Albert Street that led to the Eaton’s Annex store. Goods were cheaper in this building, and my mother usually purchased bedding and towels there. In the tunnel, the scent of ice cream waffles filled the air, which seemed strange as the walls of the tunnel contained space for selling house paints. Hot dogs and soft ice cream were two other delights that were sold in the tunnel. I remember that the escalators in the Annex were quite narrow and very rickety. On this visit, it seemed forever before we returned to the main store via the underground tunnel, where the aroma of treats again tortured my brother and me.  

Today, I wonder if my mother visited the other departments of Eaton’s to build suspense before she took us on the elevator to the fifth floor, where Toyland was located. It was a sight beyond the magic of the “Thousand and One Tales of the Arabian nights.” The huge diorama containing model electric trains possessed rivers, bridges, miniature towns, and mountains with tunnels. The model trains disappeared into the tunnels and then, shot out on the other side. Some of the trains even emitted smoke.

The display of board games was endless. Snakes and Ladders, Clue, and Parcheesi were my favourites. The games were manufactured from wood and cardboard, as the use of metal was restricted due to the war effort. There was also an amusement ride, a small train that carried passengers on an imaginary trip across Canada. It was 15 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. To save money, my brother and I rode the train without my mother. The train weaved its way across Northern Ontario, the prairies and into the mountains of B. C. It was great!

1962, Tor. Ref. tspa_0001748f[1]    

Of course, the highlight of the trip was visiting Santa, who sat on an elaborate chair in his North Pole castle. The Eaton’s Santa Claus was the “real” Santa, my mother had explained to my brother and me. The Santa at Simpson’s was merely a helper. Most Torontonians were loyal to one store or the other. My mother preferred Eaton’s as she felt that the prices were cheaper. However, we always took the time to view the Simpson’s Christmas windows that contained fairy-tale scenes with animated figures. The Bay Store continues this tradition today.

A few years ago, I visited San Francisco during November and visited the Macy’s Store on Union Square; it was like being in the Eaton’s store of my boyhood. The decorations were lavish and the toy section amazing. The restaurant on the top floor was crammed with people, similar to the days when Eaton’s operated restaurants. It is not surprising that Macy’s copied the advertising techniques of Eaton’s, as they came to Toronto many years ago seeking advice on how to create a Christmas Parade. They learned fast, and the Macy’s New York parade survives to this day. 


Eaton’s Annex Store on Albert Street. The view looks west on Albert toward Nathan Philip Square in front of the New City Hall. Toronto Archives. F0124, fl0003, id. 0031.

Close view of construction of Eaton Centre bridge from a streetcar stop on Queen Street West – September 25, 1978

View on September 25, 1978 of the glass-covered bridge over Queen Street that connects the Eaton Centre to Simpson’s (now the Bay). The south facade of the Centre is also under construction, and is visible in the background of the photo. Toronto Archives, F1526, Fl0090, item 0014. 

1978. I0016047[1]

View of the Eaton Centre in 1978 from the corner of Yonge and Dundas Streets. Photo from the Ontario Archives.

                   View of Eaton Centre with holiday decorations towards Queen Street – December 15, 1981

View of the Eaton Centre, gazing northward, on December 15, 1981, when it was decorated for Christmas. Toronto Archives, F1526, Fl 0092, Item 0056.


                                       View of the Eaton Centre in 2011.

The author is grateful for the information provided by the publications: “The Eatons, The Rise and fall of Canada’s Royal Family” by Rod McQueen (Stoddart Press, 1998) and “Eaton’s, The Trans-Canada Store,” by Bruce Allen Kopytek (History Press, 2014) 

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern, and Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

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 by 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 Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016, entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” 

“Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press, explores 75 of the city’s heritage buildings. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 







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Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant—Toronto

Jadran 2011

   Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant aboard the “M.V. Jadran.” Photo, 2011.

The “M. V. Jadran,” where Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant was located, occupied a prime location on Toronto’s waterfront for many years. When the business venture failed, there was a search to find a new owner, but it was unsuccessful due to the taxes owed and the leasing difficulties imposed by the city. After the water supply to the ship was terminated, the restaurant closed, and in the ensuing years it became an empty rusting hulk. I kept hoping that someone would eventually purchase the ship and restore it, as having a floating restaurant on the city’s shoreline was a valuable asset for both Torontonians and tourists. However, it was not to be.

It was John Lenik who brought the M. V. Jadran to Toronto. Letnik escaped Communist Yugoslavia when he was 15 years old, arriving in Canada in 1957. He worked hard and eventually opened a restaurant named “Pop-In” at Dundas and McCaul Streets. Due to his success, he finally purchased the building where the eatery was located. On a trip to Yugoslavia to visit his family, he sailed from New York aboard the “S.S. France.” On this trip, he fell in love with dining on the high seas and dreamt of opening a floating restaurant in Toronto.

On his return to Toronto, following a two-year search, in 1969 Letnik bought the “M.V. Normac.” It was a small vessel, launched in 1902 in Port Huron, Michigan. It had been used for various purposes, including a Detroit fire boat and also a Tobermory ferry. Letnik sailed it to Toronto under its own steam and moored it at the foot of Yonge Street (1 Queens Quay). He opened his restaurant aboard it in August 1970. Its hull was painted flaming red and the superstructure was white. It was an attractive sight, moored alongside Queens Quay, in a decade when the city’s waterfront was mainly industrial. The Normac was one of the few signs of life at night in an area that otherwise was desolate. I retain fond memories of the vessel, as in the 1970s, during the summer months, Capt. John’s served an all-you-can-eat lobster buffet on the top deck of the Normac. Lobster—ice cold beer—and a harbour view—heaven!

Letnik expanded his business when he purchased the MV (Merchant Vessel) Jadran in 1975. The ship had been launched in 1957 in Pula, Yugoslavia (now Croatia). As a luxury cruise ship, it sailed the Mediterranean Sea, docking at ports along the Aegean and Adriatic Seas, as well as the Black Sea. After Letnik became its owner, he embarked on a 16-day trip to sail it from Yugoslavia to Toronto. Mooring it on Queens Quay, on the port side of the Normac, he commenced business in May 1976. As well as a public restaurant, the ship offered facilities for private parties, weddings, banquets and bar mitzvahs.

In 1981, the Normac was rammed by the Toronto Ferry the Trillium, when it lost power. The hull of the Normac was punctured below the water line. The incident happened when the ship was fully occupied by diners, but no one was injured. A patch was placed over the hole, but it did not seal the opening properly and a week later the boat sank. The insurance money was insufficient to re-float and restore the vessel, so Letnik was forced to sell it. It was towed to Cleveland, Ohio, where once more it became a seafood restaurant named Captain John’s. In 1995, it was taken to Port Dalhousie, Ontario, and renamed The Riverboat. Later, it was called Tokyo Joe’s, but on December 28, 2011 it was gutted by fire.

With the loss of the Normac, Capt. John required more space. He opened the floor above the main deck of the Jadran to diners, and the second-floor deck, named the Dubrovnik Room, was employed for larger functions. However, in the year ahead, business deteriorated, and debts increased due to his battles with the city over taxes. Finally, the ship’s water supply was cut. The back taxes and utility bills were said to be about $740,000 and without water, Capt. John’s Restaurant closed.

In May 2015, the saga of the Jadran ended when it was towed from the harbour and taken to a marine scrapyard in Port Colborne. Losing the ship was a great loss to the city of Toronto.

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The Normac in the 1970s (left-hand side of the photo) and the Jadran in the background.


View from the south end of Capt. John’s pier in the 1970s. Both the Jadran and the Normac are visible. The glass-covered boats from Amsterdam that toured the lagoons of the Toronto Islands can also be seen. The boat in the foreground is one of these.


                                 The Normac at dockside in the 1970s.


The stern of the Jadran in the 1970s, gazing north toward the city. A small portion of the Normac is visible to the left of the Jadran’s stern.


                                      The bow of the Jadran in the 1970s.

                       View of damaged Captain John's ship, June 17, 1981

The Normac on June 18, 1981, after it sank because of being rammed by the Trillium. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, Fl0115, Item 7

View of "Captain John's" at the foot of York Street – July 9, 1984

             The Jadran on July 9, 1984. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 113, Item 67


The hull of Captain John’s ship the Jadran in the 2011, when it still managed to resemble a luxury cruise ship.


Sign advertising Captain John’s in 2011, the sign attached to a shed to the right of pier that led to the gangplank for boarding the Jadran.


                  The Jadran in 2011, moored at the foot of Yonge Street.


The Jadran in 2011, taken from a patio to the west of the ship, facing the port side of the ship.

Note: The author is grateful to information provided by The 1970s photos of the Jadran and the Normac were derived from 35mm Kodachrome slides taken by the author. 

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern, and Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

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 Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016, entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” 

“Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage buildings. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 


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Memories of Toronto’s restaurants of the past


Dining in Toronto in past decades was far different to the culinary scene that the city now offers. When I was a boy in the 1940s, my family did not visit restaurants as my parents considered them too expensive. The only food that was prepared outside our home was a take-out order of fish and chips from “Oakwood Fish and Chips,” located on Oakwood Avenue, north of Rogers Road. However, memories of food cooked beyond our kitchen, during my boyhood years, include the hot dogs and the aroma of the ice cream waffles in the tunnel under Albert Street. The passageway connected Eaton’s Queen Street Store to Eaton’s Annex. Other “exotic” foods of my childhood were the free samples and greasy treats at the CNE, which we loved.

In the early-1950s, my family moved to the west end of the city, near Jane Street and Lambton Avenue, and our local fish and chips shop became “Golden Crip Fish and Chips,” at 1364 Weston Road. It remains in business today (October 2015) and is now operated by the son of its original owner.

During my high school years in the  1950s, I often visited local restaurants for a coffee and a slice or pie. My favourite was the Paragon Restaurant on St. Clair West, near Oakwood Avenue. However, I never indulged in an evening meal until I was of an age to travel downtown. When my friends and I attended theatres such as Shea’s Hippodrome, The Imperial, Loew’s Downtown, Biltmore, Savoy or the Downtown, we sometimes splurged and went to the Chicken Palace at 404 Yonge Street, where we ordered deep fried chicken and french fries, served in a wicker basket. It was very similar to the KFC of today. We thought it was great.

Another favourite downtown restaurant was Bassel’s, on the southeast corner of Yonge and Gerrard Streets. After attending the theatre, we visited Bassel’s where we usually ordered coffee and pie with whipped cream, or if we went to Bassel’s in the evening, before the theatre, we had a western sandwich and fries. Because it was considered a classy restaurant, we felt very grown-up whenever we went there.

The only other eatery I remember from the 1950s is the Honey Dew restaurant located on the mezzanine level of the Odeon Carlton Theatre, which served fish and chips and Ritz Carlton hotdogs, along with the famous Honey Dew orange drink.

Series 372, Subseries 58 - Road and street condition photographs

Bassel’s on the southeast corner of Gerrard and Yonge Streets in April 1954. In the background is the Coronet (Savoy) Theatre. Toronto Archives, S0372, SS058, item 2482. 


Bassel’s Restaurant, which occupied the equivalent space of three stores on Yonge Street. 

I came of age to attend “real” restaurants in the 1960s, in a decade when more Torontonians were beginning to discover the delights of dining out. It was also the era when post-war immigrants were changing the restaurant scene. The well-seasoned spicier foods that ethnic eateries offered were challenging the more bland style of dishes that Canada inherited from Great Britain. I still remember when my mother discovered the delights of adding garlic to her recipes, much to the chagrin of my father. My mother ignored his comments. For her, there was no turning back.

When I commenced working full time, in the 1960s, I had a few more dollars to spend. One of the first restaurants my friends and I visited was the Swiss Chalet. This chain first appeared at 234 Bloor Street West, in 1954, and in the years ahead opened over 200 eateries throughout Canada and the U.S. However, my first experience with its barbequed chicken was at 362 Yonge Street, which remains in existence today. However, the original location on Bloor Street closed in 2006; a condo is now on the site. It is difficult to realize today how popular the Swiss Chalet was in the early-1960s. I once attended a wedding reception in the banquet room in the basement of the Swiss Chalet at its Yonge Street location.

Another bargain restaurant chain we frequented in the 1960s was the Steak and Burger. It had many outlets throughout the city, but the one we frequented the most was on the west side of Yonge, south of Bloor Street. We also enjoyed Smitty’s Pancake House on Dundas Street West, east of Islington Avenue, and their location in Yorkdale Plaza. Another bargain chain of steak houses was Ponderosa, named after the fictional ranch in the TV program “Bonanza.” These restaurant chains offered affordable steaks that were reasonably tender. Remember, I said “reasonably.”

My first experience with a steak house of quality was Barbarian’s, on Elm Street. This restaurant opened in 1959, and is one of the few from the days of my youth that still exists. I thought I had died and entered heaven when I first tasted their Delmonico steak. I also visited Carmen’s Steak House at 26 Alexander Street (now closed) and Tom Jones Steak House at 17 Leader Lane, located on the east side of the King Edward Hotel. This restaurant still exists today. 

       View of restaurant on Colborne Street – May 31, 1979

Tom Jones Steak House on the corner of Colborne Street and Leader Lane in 1989. Toronto Archives, F1526, fl0008, item 0116.


The Steak and Burger on Yonge Street, south of Bloor Street in the 1970s. The Golden Nugget Restaurant was slightly further north. These restaurants were favourites when we visited Loew’s Uptown or the Town Cinema Theatre on Bloor Street East. The Java House was also in this block of buildings, south of Bloor Street, and was great for coffee after the theatre. In the photo, the black building in the distance, on the far left, is a Coles Book Store. It was where we purchased our high school texts each September. In the 1950s, high schools did not provide texts. We bought our own, sometimes saving money by purchasing second-hand books. Photo, Toronto Archives, F0124, Fl 0002, Id. 0111.


The Swiss Chalet at 362 Yonge Street. Its facade has changed greatly since the 1950s. This is where I attended a wedding reception in its banquet room in the basement. Photo taken in 2014.

After I started working full time, one of the first staff Christmas parties that I attended was at the Ports of Call, at 1145 Yonge Street. It opened in 1963, and for the next decade was one of the city’s most popular dining establishments. It contained three dining rooms—the Bali Hai Room (Polynesian), the Dickens’ English Inn (roast beef) and Caesar’s Room (Italian). The Ports of Call also had two bars — the Singapore Bar (Asian) and the Batton Rouge Bar (French), the latter featuring dancing. I remember that when entering the restaurant, I walked over a wooden foot bridge that spanned a stream of flowing water. We could remain for an evening at the Ports of Call, as after dinner, we could visit one of the bars for music and dancing.

My Favourite seafood restaurant in Toronto was The Mermaid, at 724 Bay Street, which opened in 1964. It was on the west side of Bay Street, a few doors north of Gerrard. A small cozy establishment, owned by John Lundager, it featured Danish/Canadian cuisine. Its . Inside, near the entrance, there was a replica of Copenhagen’s famous statue of The Little Mermaid, from the Hans Christian Anderson tale. We always started the meal at the Mermaid with the Copenhagen Seafood Chowder, which was a Danish version of New England clam chowder—rich and creamy. The complimentary salad had a tangy garlic dressing. The main courses we enjoyed the most were Lobster Newburg, Lobster Cardinale, Lobster Thermidor, and Seafood Newburg. From the late-1960s until the 1980s, the name of the Maitre d’ was Tage Christensen. We visited the restaurant after it relocated to Dundas Street West, opposite the Art Gallery (AGO), but it was not the same. Its new owners began substituting lobster-flavoured pollock for real lobster meat, and the Mermaid closed shortly thereafter.

Perhaps one of the most famous of Toronto dining places was Ed’s Warehouse, at 266 King Street West. It was a bold venture to open a restaurant in that location in 1963, as the railway yards were on the south side of King Street. However, Ed Mirvish had purchased the Royal Alexandria Theatre and wanted to attract people to the area. I first visited Ed’s Warehouse when I received a complimentary coupon for Ed’s Warehouse with my theatre subscription. I believe that the coupon had a value of $20, and it covered the entire cost of the meal. The dining room was Victoriana gone wild; the decor was part of the attraction. The meal consisted of thick juicy slices of tender roast beef, mashed potatoes, green peas, and Yorkshire pudding. Garlic bread and dill pickles were included. The dessert was spumoni ice cream. The restaurant was so successful that Ed Mirvish expanded and opened Ed’s Seafood, Ed’s Chinese, Ed’s Italian and Ed’s Folly (a lounge). Ed’s restaurants and the Royal Alex were the impetus that started the gentrification of King Street West.

One year on my birthday, my family told me that they were taking me out to dinner, but they kept their choice of restaurant a surprise. I inquired if I should wear a tie and jacket and was told that they were unnecessary. When we arrived, we discovered that a tie and jacket were indeed mandatory, as it was Ed’s Warehouse on King Street. The waiter offered to provide the proper attire from among the jackets and ties that they kept for such situations. He explained that they required the dress code to prevent vagrants from across the street at the railroad yards from entering the establishment. We were offended, as the clothes they offered were grubby looking, and we were certainly not hobos. We were wearing freshly-ironed sport shirts and neat trousers.

Then, Ed Mirvish appeared and inquired, “What’s the problem?”

We explained.

He smiled, apologized, and told the waiter, “Escort them to the table that has been reserved.”

We enjoyed the meal and when the cheque arrived, the bill had been reduced by 50 per cent. He was a very smart businessman as well as a big-hearted individual. My family never forgot his generosity.

                     King St W - "Ed's Warehouse" restaurant – October 9, 1981

Ed’s restaurants on King Street in 1981. Toronto Archives, F1526, fl0067, item 17 .

La Chaumiere Restaurant at 77 Charles Street East, near Church Street, opened in 1950, and was the city’s first truly French dining establishment. Its intimate atmosphere and excellent food were delightful. I was greatly saddened when it closed its doors in 1988; the historic house was demolished, and for a few years the site was likely a parking lot, as it was not until 1995 that a housing co-operative was erected on the property. Today, I possess fond memories of this fine dining establishment. The feature that I remember the most was the hors-d’oeuvres cart, which contained at least twenty appetizers, including escargot (heavy with garlic), trays of stuffed olives, stuffed mushrooms, wine-marinated anchovies, pureed cottage cheese with cognac and scallions, and quenelles of shrimp. La Chaumiere was also well known for its coq au vin and scallops Normandie.


   La Chaumiere on Charles Street, near Church Street in the 1960s.

Another popular restaurant was the Three Small Rooms in the Windsor Arms Hotel. The hotel was a favourite of Hollywood stars such as Katharine Hepburn. Another restaurant I remember fondly, always appropriate for special occasions, was Winston’s at 120 King Street West. It was expensive, but the food was wonderful. It was reported that John Turner had his own table at Winston’s. La Scala on the southeast corner of Bay and Charles was great Italian food; it was frequented by the Ontario Cabinet of Bill Davis. However, the food portions at La Scala were small. I dined there once with my father and he asked the waiter if anyone ever ordered in a pizza after finishing a meal at La Scala. The waiter smiled; he had likely heard similar comments on previous occasions. Mr. Tony’s Place at 100 Cumberland Avenue in Yorkville was also highly popular, even though it offered no printed menus.  

The Hungarian Village at 900 Bay Street served Hungarian food and featured live Gypsy violinists. I remember being treated to lunch there by a friend, prior to my departure for a holiday.


L’Hardy’s restaurant at 634 Church Street opened in 1973 and remained until 1987. Its two owners (and chefs) once cooked for the royal court in Madrid. The food was superb, along with the service. It was located in the southern half of a 19th century semi-detached house, which was on the west side of Church Street, a short distance south of Bloor Street East. The northern half of the semi-detached house was occupied by another well-known restaurant—Quenelles. We visited L’Hardy’s frequently, and when I asked a waiter if I could have a menu as a souvenir, he gave me one that had not been used. I still have the menu today. 


This is a photo of the menu at L’Hardy’s that I have kept all these years. I drool as I peruse the entrees and fondly recall the price of the dishes.

Fenton’s was at 6 Gloucester, a few doors east of Yonge Street. It was one of the most well-known restaurants in Toronto for over a decade, famous for its Leek and Stilton soup. I always requested a table in the glass-covered courtyard as it was akin to dining in a garden. This restaurant suffered the same fate as the Mermaid. When it changed hands it cheapened the quality of the food but increased the prices. It did not last long under the new management.  

Napoleon restaurant was at 79 Grenville Street, a short distance west of Bay Street. It opened in 1976 in an old house, and remained until 1984. I recall how difficult it was to receive a reservation, so always phoned at least a week in advance. Following a disastrous fire, it was not rebuilt. Rumours circulated that members of the mafia had been turned away at the door, and had put out “a hit” on the place.

One of the ethnic restaurants that stands out in my memory is Acropole. I am not certain of its location, but I believe it was on Dundas Street West, near Bay Street. Greek cuisine was not well known in the 1960s. The names of the dishes so were unfamiliar to most Torontonians that menus at the Acropole were useless. Diners were invited to visit the kitchen, examine the dishes, and point to the ones that they wished to be served. Another ethnic restaurant that stands out in my mind was Michi, when it was on Church Street. It was my first experience with Japanese food.  


Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant was in a ship named the Jadran, which in an earlier life had cruised the Mediterranean Sea. John Letnik purchased it and sailed it from Yugoslavia to Toronto. It arrived in November 1975 and was docked at the foot of Yonge Street, at 1 Queens Quay. The first time I dined on the ship I enjoyed the experience, though looking back, I think it was the idea of eating on a cruise ship that was the highlight, rather than the food.

However, I have very pleasant memories of dining on the smaller ship of Capt. John’s, which was moored on the east side of the Jadran. It was named the Normac. I remember the all-you-can-eat lobster buffet that was served on the top deck during the summer months. Lobster and ice cold beer on a hot July day, overlooking the harbour, was as close to heaven as I’ll likely ever get. Unfortunately, the boat was rammed by the Trillium ferry and sunk. It was eventually re-floated and towed to Cleveland, where it became a seafood restaurant for that city.

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The smaller boat of Captain John’s, the “Normac,” in the 1970s, the larger ship the “Jadran” in the background.

Quo Vadis is another restaurant that must be mentioned when writing about the 1960s, as it was the first dining establishment in Toronto to receive international recognition. It opened at 375 Church Street in 1964. I remember it well, but was never inside it.


Photo of the front (insert) and the interior of Quo Vadis Restaurant, from Chuckman’s Postcard Collection (

There were two famous buffet restaurants in Toronto in the 1960s. One of them was the Town and Country, which had opened in 1949 in the Westminster Hotel at Gould and Mutual Streets. Its well-advertised “all-you-can-eat French buffet” was highly popular, though it was not particularly French. For my family, we “pigged-out” on the lobster, with a few slices of roast beef to break the monotony.

The other favourite buffet in that decade was the Savarin Tavern, located at 336 Bay Street. It was on the west side of Bay Street, a short distance south of Richmond Street West. It was on the second floor, with a steep staircase leading to the dining room. In my eyes, the buffet was “lobster-lobster-lobster.” By now I am certain that you have guessed that I LOVE lobster. Patrons often lined the stairs while waiting for their tables at the Savarin, even though they had reservations. The building where the restaurant was located was designated a Heritage site in 1980. However, it was still demolished, though its facade was re-assembled inside the Northern Ontario Building.


                             The Savarin Tavern at 336 Bay Street.

The Old Fish Market at 12 Market Street, near the St. Lawrence Market, was another of my favourite places for seafood, though it certainly was not in the class the Mermaid. I remember an evening that we engaged in a “progressive dinner.” We visited the Old Fish Market for our appetizer (seafood chowder), and then Graf Bobby at 36 Wellington East for our main course (wiener schnitzel), and then, drove up to the Cafe de la Paix at 131 Bloor West in the Colonnade for coffee and dessert. 

Olde Fish Market

                The Old Fish Market Restaurant at 12 Market Street.

Graf Bobby 2

                                  The Graf Bobby Restaurant on Wellington Street

The Sign of the Steer was a large restaurant located at 191 Dupont Street, where it intersects with Davenport Road. I was never inside this restaurant, but I as I recall, it had a great reputation for charcoal-broiled steak. On its the south facade, there was a green neon sign that created the outline of a steer. It was impressive when a person drove past it at night.

1955.  f1257_s1057_it0504[1]

The Sign of the Steer Restaurant at 161 Dupont Street in 1955, the neon sign of a steer visible on the south wall. Toronto Archives, F1257, item 0504.

Harry’s Steak House on the southwest corner of Church and Granby Streets opened in 1961. It was another enterprise of Harry Barbarian, who owned the famous steak house on Elm Street. The prices were more modest and the steaks were almost as good. Because Maple Leaf Gardens was a few blocks south of it, it was very busy on nights when the Leafs played home games.

            View of Harry's Steak House on Church Street at Maitland Street – June 15, 1971

Harry’s Steak House in 1971. Toronto Archives, F1526, Fl0008, item 0030.

Creighton’s restaurant on the ground floor of the Westbury Hotel was another place that garnered attention in the 1970s. On Saturdays, in the TV Guide that was inserted into the Toronto Star, there was a special feature. Readers were encouraged to write the Star and request their favourite recipes from restaurants. A reader wrote in an asked for the recipe of a shrimp dish named Les Scampi’s Amoureux (Shrimp in Love). I had ordered this delicious dish many times, so I kept the recipe. I believe that the secret is the Pernod. When I prepared the recipe, I substituted large shrimp.


Before closing this post, there are a few more restaurants that I would like to mention. La Provencal at 23 St. Thomas Street (great escargot), Julie’s Mansion at 515 Jarvis Street, Gaston’s at 595 Markham Street (famous for its French onion soup), Sutton Place on the top floor of the Sutton Place Hotel, Valhalla Inn in Etobicoke, and the Black Angus Steak House on Dundas West (Etobicoke). This steak House is still in business. Then, there was the Arcadian Room (Simpson’s), Casa Mendoza (great meat platters, Argentinian style) on the Lakeshore, The Round Room in Eaton’s College, Beverley Hills Hotel on Wilson Avenue (good lunch buffet), the Colonial Tavern and the Silver Rail on Yonge Street, and Diana Sweets on Yonge and also on Bloor, and Fran’s on St. Clair Avenue, Eglinton Avenue, and on College Street. Another favourite of many Torontonians was the Georgian Room on the 9th floor of the old Eaton’s store at Queen and Yonge Street.

There are many more Toronto restaurants of the 1960s and 1970s, as I have only listed the ones that either I visited or remember well. Memory sometimes plays tricks, so if I have committed errors, I hope that readers will be understanding. For some of the exact addresses of the restaurants I relied on information posted on-line. I discovered some errors on these web sites, but still, I am grateful that these sources were available.

In response to this post, Paul Coghill of Toronto emailed me his thoughts about restaurants of Toronto’s past. He stated that in talking about the ice cream waffles, there was also the Honey Dew stand in Simpson’s basement. Scott’s restaurant was on Yonge just north of Dundas, where you sat upstairs looking out onto Yonge St to have bacon burger and fries (that was before we worried or knew about cholesterol). Remembering the early days of the Swiss Chalet, they only served 1/2 or 1/4 chicken with french fries and NO cutlery. I remember the first time I went there with a friend. He knew the chain from Montreal and was watching for my expression when they didn’t bring cutlery. You just picked everything up in your fingers. I also remember the Organ Grinder on the Esplanade. I think it is still there. The Florentine Court was on Church near Dundas. It had old world charm.  The Goulash Pot at Yonge and Bloor was another Hungarian restaurant. Mary John’s, I think was on Elizabeth St. around Gerrard. I recently read an article about it but don’t recall where!  A lot of artists frequented it. It was closed to make room for an apartment building and was relocated in the new building, but it lost its charm.

One of the novels that I wrote — “The Reluctant Virgin”— (a murder mystery) is set in Toronto in the 1950s and the imaginary characters in the story dine in many of the restaurants mentioned in this post.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern, and Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

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 Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016, entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” 

“Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London England) explores 75 of the city’s historic buildings. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 






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