Category Archives: Life during World War II

Memories of springtime in Toronto in the 1940s

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Sometimes, I teasingly tell people that there are three terrible aspects of living in Canada – January, February and March. However, I quickly add that because of our seemingly never-ending winters, the arrival of spring is perhaps more eagerly appreciated than in latitudes further south. I was born in Toronto and spent my boyhood in the city during the difficult years of Second World War. Sometimes, I compare the spring seasons of the war-years with those of today.

I was in this reflective mood in May of this year (2016), when I gazed at the delicate purple blossoms on the redbud in the park across from my condominium. When I was a boy, I do not recall ever having seen these exquisite flowering trees. In the 1940s, our climate was far colder than today, and redbud were unable to survive Toronto’s frigid winters. This realization caused me to think about other changes over the years, and realize how different springtime was during my childhood. (redbud shown on lower left)

DSCN0615 In past decades, our daily activities centred more closely around the seasons. There were no thermal double-glazed windows, so one of the first rituals of spring was watching my father remove the storm windows on our house. After they were stored in the basement, lacking air conditioning, screens were installed to allow the circulation of the air within the rooms during the summer ahead. Another sign of the new season was the end of the weekly doses of cod liver oil. There were no capsules or sugar-coated versions of the nasty-tasting oil, so the cessation of winter’s medicine caused me to quietly celebrate.

In winter, similar to most children, I did not go much after dark. However, with the arrival of the longer evenings of spring, I was allowed to venture out after supper, although I was expected to return home when the streetlights came on. The laneways behind the houses were the best playgrounds, as they were secluded from adults’ prying eyes. While playing games like “kick-the-can” or “hide and go seek” in the laneways, my friends and I also peered over the backyard fences at the gardens. We noticed that soil was being prepared for the spring planting of seeds —mainly carrots and beets.

While examining the gardens, my friends and I also observed the fruit trees in blossoms, and noted those that might be worthy of raiding in the autumn seasons. Sour (Montmorency) cherries would be available for plundering in June, the apples, peaches and pears eluding us until late-August. However, in May, rhubarb patches were ready for a “pulling session.” We held contests to determine who was able to crunch on the most sour stalks before calling it quits. We never mentioned the number of times we went to the toilet later that night.

When I arrived inside the house, because the streetlights had come on, my mother was often examining an Eaton’s Spring Catalogue, a smaller version of the one that appeared each year well in advance of the Christmas season. My father was relaxing and reading the newspaper, having placed aside the seed catalogues, since he had already purchased those that he required.

My mother also enjoyed gardening. Each spring she planted flowers seeds in pots. As the days warmed, in the mornings she carried them outside and positioned them in a sunny spot at the rear of the house. In the evening, she brought in again, until after May 24th holiday. My parents never purchased plants in a nursery or at a corner store. The frugality of the war years did not allow such extravagance, although seedlings were available at the St. Lawrence Market for families with thicker wallets.

In May, in our backyard garden the pink peonies were in bud, purple iris and hollyhocks were pushing upward, and bleeding hearts were in bloom in a sheltered spot beside the south fence. A bunch of lilacs from the bushes at the rear of the garden was in a vase on the kitchen table. Outside on the street, the mature maple trees flanking the avenue were dropping their tiny bright-green flowers, carpeting the pavement and sidewalks. The bright greens of spring never lasted long, before slowly turning to the deep greens of summer. 

My attire changed dramatically to accommodate the new season. I put away the rubber boots I had worn all winter, with their thick inner-soles and heavy wool stockings, and put on my scampers. These shoes I would wear until the cold weather returned. Some kids wore “running shoes”, today more commonly referred to as “sneakers.” In the 1940s, the term sneakers was unknown to me. My britches (pants), with the long socks that came up to the knees, disappeared and I now wore overalls.

At school, our reading program closely followed the Canadian seasons. In grade one, the official reader was the “Mary, John and Peter” book. Authorized by the Minister of Education, it was designed and illustrated under the supervision of The Ontario College of Art, and sold by the T. Eaton Company.


The “Mary, John and Peter” grade-one reader. Every child in Ontario during the war years commenced their reading lessons with this book. The cover illustrates that its first pages were devoted to autumn, the beginning of the school year. The copy of the book shown above was printed in 1933.


The first pages inside the cover of the reader. I still remember the first time I opened the book in September of 1944.


In the spring of 1944, when we read the story “The Little Red Tulip,” I knew that our teacher had officially recognized the spring season.

There were other signs of spring that occurred at school. The girls commenced bringing their skipping ropes to school, the most intricate type of skipping being double-dutch. It was amazing to observe two sets of ropes whirling in the air as the girls skipped in and out of them. As well, squares were marked with chalk on the pavement in the schoolyard to play hop-scotch. I might add that the chalk was usually stolen from the blackboard ledges when the girls lined up beside them to depart for recess or lunch. Another popular game was “pick up the jacks. ”In the 1940s, boys and the girls were segregated in the schoolyards, so these activities mainly occurred in the girls’ yard.

In the boys’ yard, pockets bulged with glass marbles, sometimes referred to as “dibs or allies.” Various competitive games were employed to try to win some of the other boys’ collections. The most highly prized marbles were the larger ones, referred to as “boulders.” We traded cards with photos of movie stars, obtained from packages of bubble gum. It was not until the 1950s, with the advent of television, that hockey and baseball cards were inserted into bubble gum packages. 

Another signal that spring was in the air was the arrival of the “yo-yo man.” A promoter for a yo-yo company stood outside the schoolyard fence during recess and performed amazing trick with them, the hardest of them being “the sleeper.” It enticed many children to visit a local store and buy a yo-yo while purchasing penny candy.

Spring brought other changes. The sign placed in the front window of our house for the iceman was reversed to indicate that 50 pounds of ice were required for the icebox. All winter, 25 pounds had been sufficient. With the warmer weather, we lifted the canvas cover at the back of the ice truck to retrieve small shards of ice to suck on. The wooden box that my father had placed in the kitchen window to keep food cool was removed for the season. The temperature inside the box was regulated by adjusting the height of the window. It was a practical way of obtaining extra space to keep food fresh during the winter season.

The month of May was also when the first of the trucks from Nova Scotia appeared on our street, selling fresh spring salmon. They packed the fish in ice and drove non-stop from the Atlantic region to Toronto. It was one of the highlights of the year, equalled only by the appearance later in the season of the farmers’ trucks from Niagara, which delivered strawberries and asparagus. My mother thoroughly enjoyed berating the vendors about their prices, while silently giving thanks for the change in the menu at the kitchen table.

Today, I anticipate the arrival of spring as much as when I was a child. Each year, on a warm sunny day, I walk around the city and appreciate again the arrival of the new season. Below are a few of the photographs taken on May 16, 2016, during my excursion this spring. 


Redbud in bloom in St. Andrew’s Playground, beside the brick wall of the Waterworks (Maintenance) Building on Brant Street.


Trees in flower on the south side of Dundas Street West, near Augusta Avenue, on the north side of the Alexandra Park Co-op Housing.

21 Kensington Ave.   

        Lilacs in front of 21 Kensington Avenue in the Kensington Market


Houses and blossoms on the west side of Kensington Avenue, south of St. Andrew’s Street.

                     106 Kensington Ave.

Peonies in bud at 106 Kensington Avenue, in the Kensington Market.

96 Baldwin Ave.

Tulips and forget-me-not flowers in the front garden at 96 Baldwin Avenue.

101 Baldwin Ave.

                         Dandelions and violets at 101 Baldwin Street 

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          University Avenue, gazing north toward College Street.

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Pansies in front of the Canada Life Building on University Avenue.


Daffodils in the rear garden of Campbell House, built in 1822, on the northwest corner of University Avenue and Queen Street West.


Trees in front of the north facade of Osgoode Hall on Queen Street West, near University Avenue.


View of Toronto’s Old City Hall from the gardens on the east side of Osgoode Hall.


             View of the New City Hall from the gardens on the west side. 


Gazing north from Queen Street East at the Metropolitan United Church, at Queen Street East and Church Street.


View of St. James Cathedral on King Street East from the gardens on the east side.


Gazing west towards St. James Cathedral from the east side of St. James Park.


View of the north and west facades of the St. Lawrence Hall on King Street East at Jarvis Street, from the gardens of St. James Park.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It 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 former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released in June 2016. For further information follow the link to  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link shown below:–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.





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Centre Island’s lost village—Toronto


Visiting Toronto’s Centre Island in the 1940s usually began by boarding a Toronto Peter Witt streetcar.

When I was a young boy in the 1940s, visiting Centre Island was high adventure. It was during the war years, and holidaying within the city was the only possibility open to most people. Gasoline and car tires were rationed, and automobiles were unaffordable. Besides, cars were not being manufactured due to the war effort. The most popular summer destinations were Centre Island, Sunnyside, and in mid-August, the CNE. The CNE is now greatly reduced in size and Sunnyside Amusement Park was demolished to construct the Gardiner Expressway. Sadly, the village on Centre Island, which I knew as a boy, has also disappeared.

For my family, a day-trip to Centre Island always began when my family boarded a Bay Streetcar. In those years, the Bay cars journeyed from their western terminus at St. Clair and Lansdowne, east on St. Clair, south on Avenue Road, east on Davenport and then, southward on Bay Street to the ferry docks at Bay and Queen’s Quay.

1920s Peter Witt streetcar, interior

Interior of a Peter Witt streetcar such as those that travelled on the Bay Street route in the 1940s.

The excitement of anticipation caused the journey on the streetcar to be akin to a trans-continental trip. However, after travelling southward through the Bay Street canyon, we finally arrived at the ferry terminal, on the south side of Queen’s Quay, at the foot of Bay Street. My dad referred to as “the new terminal,” as it had been built between the years 1926 and 1927. This was only a few years after he had arrived in the city as a young immigrant in 1921.

As a boy, this was the only terminal that I knew; it remained in service until 1972, when it was demolished. The present-day facility, the Toronto Island Ferry Docks, was built in 1973, and was renamed the Jack Layton Terminal in 2013. In 2015, it was announced that a more modern terminal is to replace it.

Fonds 1244, Item 1114

This photograph of the terminal was taken in 1927, shortly after it opened at the foot of Bay Street. Above the entrance are the words, Hanlan’s Point. It was the most popular destination as it was where an amusement park and the city’s main baseball stadium were located. However, the Centre Island ferries also departed from this terminal. The streetcar in the photo is proceeding westward to terminate its journey at the TTC loop at York St. and Queen’s Quay. Photo from Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 1114.

My pleasure of having arrived at the terminal was soon replaced by my fear of the “witch”inside its waiting area. She resided in a tall glass structure, about the size and shape of a public telephone booth. She did not move, remaining immobile while she awaited a victim. I did not understand that she was a life-size mannequin, attired as an elderly gypsy woman. Alas, the problems of being only five years old.

Standing warily at a distance, I edged closer to my dad when I noticed that someone had placed a coin in the slot in the front of the booth. I had seen the witch in action before and knew what would happen. She magically came to life. Her wrinkled hand moved eerily over a set of cards in front of her. Her glowing eyes scanned the cards, and then, she gazed up as if scrutinizing the person who had inserted the coin. I knew that she was giving me the evil-eye as well. Next, she selected a card and dropped it into an opening, where it descended into a slot on the front of the glass booth. The customer retrieved the card and gazed at it. I did not know that the witch was a fortune teller and that the cards predicted peoples’ fortunes.

I was greatly relieved when the gates at the south end of the terminal opened, and I escaped the witch by becoming a part of the crowds surging toward the ferry.  

In the 1940s, the ferries that carried passengers across the harbour were the the Bluebell (launched in 1906), Trillium (1910),  the William Inglis (1935) and the Sam McBride (1939). They were all double-decked, double-ended boats. My favourite was the Trillium, as my father always took my brother and me below deck, where it was possible to view the enormous pistons that powered the side-paddles that propelled the boat across the waters of the bay. The sheer size and hissing noise of the pistons were amazing and fascinating. Thankfully, the Trillium still exists today and is available for special harbour excursions.

The only terrifying incident I experienced on a ferry was aboard the Bluebell. My uncle George was the captain in the 1940s, and on one occasion, he invited us to climb up to the wheel-house on the top deck. The only problem was that to reach it, I needed to ascend an iron ladder attached to the side of the boat. While on the ladder, I was virtually hanging in space, the waters of the harbour threateningly swirling below me. Reaching the top, I enjoyed the view from the windows of the wheel-house, but descending the ladder was even more frightening than the witch in the glass booth in the ferry terminal.

Bluebell,, 1942, TRL 964-6-40[1]

The Bluebell in the 1940s, when my uncle, George Brown, was the captain of the ferry. Toronto Public Library, 9646-40.

After crossing the harbour and arriving on Centre Island, we walked along a cement pathway that remains in existence today. On either side of it were expansive picnic grounds and a large pavilion with many tables. Under it, picnickers could find shelter from the sun on scorching hot days or from thunderstorms on rainy afternoons. Eventually, we reached the Venetian-style bridge that crossed over Long Pond, one of the many lagoons on the islands. On the south side of the bridge was Manitou Road, the main drag of the village on Centre Island. It was a relatively short in length, about equal in distance to King Street, between Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street. However, its size did not detract from its importance.

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The Venetian-style bridge over Long Pond in 1900. View gazes south. Toronto Archives,  Fonds 1568, Item 0433. 

After crossing the bridge, at the north end of Manitou Road, beside the lagoon, there was a boathouse that rented canoes by the hour or day. Paddling the quiet waters of the islands had been popular since the 19th century. However, my eyes were not drawn to the canoe-rental shop, but to the food stands on Manitou Road. I longed to feast on the popcorn, candy apples, hot buttered corn (in August), candy floss, and hot dogs. A boy my age was in reality a bag of skin stretched over an appetite.

The food kiosks were not the only places to satisfy one’s hunger. Lining the street were restaurants, where the sounds of the music from the juke boxes drifted on the summer air, their appeal more enjoyable due to the cooling breezes from the lake. “A nickel in the slot” gave a person access to the swinging dance tunes of the decade, such as those of Glenn Miller’s band, which was highly popular during the war years. The candy shop, ice cream parlour, and bakery were mouth-watering, but I ignored the bank, book store, dance halls, open-air dance floor, tea rooms, and drug store. Manitou Road was a complete village contained within a single roadway, since it also possessed a Dominion Bank, laundry, dairy, and butcher shop.

Lining the street were hotels and Victorian or Edwardian wood-frame houses that rented rooms. I heard my my dad tell my mother that the rooms were expensive, so it was not uncommon for two to four young people to share a room. He said that teenagers and young adults ignored the inconveniences of crowded rooms to be close to the action on Manitou Road, where they could “whoop-it-up” and misbehave, as they were beyond the prying eyes of their parents and neighbours across the harbour in the city.

My mother’s eye-brows rose slightly when my dad informed her that the partying on Manitou Road continued until the midnight hour. He told her that it was a regular occurrence, especially on Friday and Saturdays, or if there were a hot spell that drove Torontonians to escape the heat and humidity on the mainland. As my dad informed my mother about the behaviour of the summer visitors on Manitou Road, I wondered how he knew about such things. Today, I wonder if my mother was thinking the same thing. I won’t relate my mother’s reaction when my dad confessed that when he was younger, he had been in Price’s Casino on Manitou Road.

The side-streets east and west of the main drag mostly had wooden plank sidewalks, shaded by mature trees, many of them ancient willows. These avenues were flanked by rows of wood-frame houses with small gardens. Most of them displayed perennials, as bringing annuals over from the city was inconvenient and laborious. Plants such as hollyhocks, which seeded themselves, as well as blue delphiniums were also popular.

Since no cars were allowed on the islands, residents walked or travelled by bicycle. Adding to the number of bicycles were the rental shops where day-trippers could lease them by the hour or day. Other activities included tennis, bowling, canoeing, and badminton. At the south end of Manitou Road was the cool waters of Lake Ontario. Beside it was the avenue simply named the Lakeshore, a long stretch of roadway that paralleled the lake. Following it to the west led to Hanlan’s Point, and to the east, Ward’s Island. Some of the finest homes on the islands were on the Lakeshore, facing the water. Many prominent Toronto families maintained summer homes on Centre Island, including the Gooderham’s and the Massey’s. These two families were also instrumental in creating the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (YCYC) on Centre Island.

On the west side of the intersection of Manitou Road and the Lakeshore was one of the most popular beaches on the islands. The long stretch of golden sand was crowded, even when the water was cold, beginning in the morning hours and remaining until about 5:30 pm. After that hour, the crowds thinned out as young people departed for the restaurants, soda fountains, and tea shops on Manitou Road. When darkness descended, they would cruise the dance halls, the strings of coloured lights over Manitou Road adding to the party atmosphere. At the end of the evening, unless people were residents, they joined the stampede to catch the last ferry departing for the mainland.

During the 1940s, on most summer days the ferries were crowded to capacity. On August 11, 1944, during a heat wave, they transported 30,000 people across the harbour. In this decade, unless July and August were exceptionally cool or rainy, the ferries carried about a million passengers annually. Most of them were day-trippers. During the summer months, the number of residents living on the islands swelled to about 12,000, though some remained after the warm weather ended. Centre Island was a place that provided entertainment for all ages, with quiet spots for family picnics, lazy lagoons for canoeing, and dance halls and restaurants for younger adults.  

However, in 1956, the writing was on the wall. The Centre Island that I knew as a boy was to disappear. The city transferred the responsibility for the islands to the Municipality of Metro Toronto. The official plan was to demolish the permanent buildings and turn the islands into parkland to be shared by everyone, not the privileged few. However, it was mostly the less affluent residents who lost their homes on the islands. No attempt was made to open the grounds of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club to the public. It retains its exclusivity to this very day.

Removing the homes on the islands commenced one of the longest legal battles in the history of the city, as residents fought to maintain their homes. The city was not completely successful in their quest, but the demolition of the homes and the businesses on Manitou Road commenced in the 1960s. I was in my late-teens at this time and remember the reports in the newspapers about the destruction. It was not long before the main drag was razed and the places to “whoop-it-up” were gone forever.

Today, few traces remain of the Centre Island that once existed. However, if a person strolls along the boardwalk that parallels the lake, from Centre Island to Ward’s Island, among the bushes, wild undergrowth and trees, it is possible to view a few surviving cement and stone foundations of the old houses that faced the lake. Remains of a garden wall or a few steps that led to a doorway, can still be seen if one looks carefully. In a few places, there are clumps of perennials that have survived for over six decades, the remains of the quaint gardens that once grew beside the houses that were the summer homes of Toronto residents of the past. These flowers, purchased on the mainland, are now the only living landmarks of a village life that the city destroyed.

The 1960s was an decade when more than just Centre lsland was destroyed. A large number of homes along the Lakeshore Road on the mainland were seized, bulldozed, and paved over to build the Gardiner Expressway. The Sunnyside Amusement Park also disappeared to allow this project to proceed. Within the downtown core, dozens of heritage building, Georgian-style row houses, fine mansions, 1920s-Art Deco skyscrapers, theatres, and government buildings were razed. 

Saving the past has never been easy, but the 1960s actively encouraged it. Those who fought against it were labelled as “crackpots” and the enemies of progress.

Note: Many of the details on this post were gleaned from my teenager years, but it was the visits when I was a child that remain the most memorable. When I was a teenager, my family purchased an automobile and it was possible to visit the beaches on Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay. Then, trips to Centre Island lost much of their magic. For other information on the post, I am indebted to Sally Gibson, who published a report on Centre Island that brought back many memories. Other sources were——http://the urbangeographer.wordpress—

Fonds 1266, Item 2488

People entering the terminal on Queen’s Quay in 1924, to attend a baseball game at Hanlan’s Point. Ferry service commenced its summer schedule earlier than today, opening when the baseball season commenced. Toronto Archives, F1266, Item 2488. 

Ferry Service, (Commercial Department) – April 6, 1928

Passenger exiting the terminal on April 6, 1928 to board a Toronto ferry, Toronto Archives, S 0071, Item 5737.

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The four ferries I knew as a boy and teenager, moored at the docks on Queen’s Quay. Photo taken in 1952. The Queen’s Quay Warehouse is visible in the background. It is now the Queen’s Quay Terminal and contains a condominium and shops. Toronto Archives, S-1-419

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A parade on Manitou Road on Centre Island in 1953, likely on May 24th—Victoria Day. The shops and hotels on either side of the street are visible. Photo from http://theurbangeographer.wordpress.

Hooper Avenue, 1927. Canada a054553-v8[1]

Hooper Avenue in 1927, one of the quiet residential streets on Centre Island to the east of Manitou Road. Canada Archives, a0544553-v8

Manitou Rd, c. 1949, S 872, File 19

Gazing south on Manitou Road from the Venetian-style bridge c. 1945. Lake Ontario is visible in the far distance. Toronto Archives F. 872, File 19.

                           St. Andrew's on old site, Mrs. Butler's Coll, S 872, File 20

St. Andrew’s Anglican Church on the old site, c. 1945, prior to it being relocated in 1959. Photo from Mrs. Butler’s Collection, Toronto Archives, S 872, File 20


St. Andrew’s on its new location, being painted and repaired for its 100th anniversary in 1975. Toronto Archives, S 871, File 20.

Wayside Inn, Manitou Rd., 872, File 17

The Wayside Inn on Manitou Road c. 1945, Toronto Archives, S 872, File 17.

6 Hiawatha Rd, the Barkers, 872, File 1

6 Hiawatha Road, c. 1945, home of the Barker family, Toronto Archives, S 872, File 1

6 Hiawatha Rd, the Barkers, 872, File 1

     18 Hiawatha Road, home of the Mogg’s, Toronto Archives, S. 872, File 1

20 Hiawatha Rd, the Redman's home  872, file 1

     20 Hiawatha Road c. 1945, the Redman’s, Toronto Archives, S 872, File 1

26 Hiawatha Rd,  File 872, File 1,

        26 Hiawatha Road, c. 1945, Toronto Archives, S 872, File 1

30 Hiawatha

        30 Hiawatha Road, c. 1945, Toronto Archives, S 872, File 1

48 Hiawatha, the Rudd's

        48 Hiawatha Road, c. 1945, the Rudd’s, Toronto Archives S 872, File 1

Fire Hall, 1954, Manitou Rd. pictures-r-350[1]

  Fire Hall on Centre Island on Manitou Road in 1954, Toronto Public Library, r- 350

Maniitou Rd. 1954.  pictures-r-3468[1]

Manitou Road in 1954, looking south toward the lake. Toronto Public Library, r-3468.

Police Stn, 1954, Manitou Rd. pictures-r-427[1]

      Police Station next to the Fire Hall in 1954, Toronto Public Library, r-427

S. 872, File 17, Mrs. Redican's baked Goods,

Mrs. Redican’s Baked Goods Store on Centre Island in the 1950s. Toronto Archives, S 872, File 17

s. 873, File 17, Manitou Rd.

Pierson’s Hotel in the 1950s. It was known as being “up-scale.” It was near the south end of Manitou Road, Toronto Archives, S 873, File 17

wordpress-early 1950s, Toronto Album 2,  Manitou-Road-Centre-Island[1].png

Manitou Road in winter in the early-1950s, view looking south toward the lake. Trucks were allowed in winter as service vehicles were needed to assist those who lived on the islands all year. Photo from http://theurbangeographer.wordpress.

DSCN9048  DSCN9049

The Avenue of the Islands on Centre Island, in July 2015, south of the Venetian bridge. This is where where Manitou Road once existed. 


The Venetian-style bridge over Long Pond in 2014, where in the 1940s I walked across from the north side to the south (left of picture to the right) to reach Manitou Road. The view gazes eastward at the bridge.

Island-beach-  1920-f1231_it1144[1]

The beach on the Lakeshore at the south end of Manitou Road in 1920. Toronto Archives, 1231, Item 1144.


Beach on the Lakeshore in 2014, at the south end of Manitou Road, which is now the Avenue of the Islands


The remains of a garden wall from a home that was demolished on Centre Island. Photo taken beside the boardwalk in 2011.


The Rectory Restaurant between Centre and Ward’s Islands, located in one of the few homes on the Lakeshore to have escaped demolition. Photo taken in 2011.


The boardwalk in 2012, which stretches parallel to the Lakeshore between Centre and Ward’s Islands. 


A home on Ward’s Island in 2011 that is reminiscent of the houses that once existed on Centre Island, prior to the 1960s.

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Other homes on Ward’s Island in 2011 that resemble those that were demolished on Centre Island.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It 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 former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to  here  or to contact the publisher directly:–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.




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List of 25 favourite things from Christmas’ past

The Christmas season revives memories of childhood for many people. We recall favourite toys and games that we unwrapped under the lights of the tree. Few of us ever forget receiving our first pair of skates, a sled or toboggan. There are scents, sounds and images of Christmas’ past that remain with us forever, the present-day festivities often causing them to rise to the surface from deep within us.

On November 11th this year (2015), I was struck by the fact that the number of soldiers who fought in the Second World War is dwindling. It caused me to realize that those of us who were children during the war are also declining in numbers. We remember the rationing, casualty reports, and the newsreels at the Saturday afternoon matiness that depicted scenes from the battlefront. As I viewed the yuletide lights this year, my thoughts wandered back to Christmas of 1944. It was the last festive celebration of the war, as the by the end of the year the conflict had ended in both Europe and the Pacific. That last war-time Christmas remains embedded forever within my memory.

The year 1944 was also when the greatest snow storm to ever hit Toronto descended on the city. The snow began on a Monday evening, December 11th, when light flurries silently swirled across the streets and laneways. Their intensity increased as midnight approached and in the early hours of the morning of December 12, I awoke to a wintry world beyond my imagination. By 8:00 a.m. 19 inches (nearly 50 centimetres) had fallen. The storm continued and by 10:00 a.m. there were 20 inches and 21 by noontime. Before the storm abated in the afternoon, 22.5 inches of snow had accumulated. As a child, I thought this was the greatest Christmas present that anyone could ever receive.

Series 372, S072, SS0100, It. 0450

Clearing Bay Street of snow after the December 1944 storm. View looks north on Bay Street from near Adelaide Street, the tower of the Old City Hall in the distance. Toronto Archives, Series 372, SS100, Item 450. 

Series 372, S072, SS1100 Item 449

Gazing north on Yonge Street south of Richmond Street, the Bay Store in the distance. In 1944 it was Simpson’s Department Store. Toronto Archives, Series 372, SS 100, Item 449.

When Christmas arrived in 1944, the enormous drifts of snow remained on the streets of Toronto. They appeared clean and white as they had been refreshed several times by Mother Nature during the preceding weeks. Unlike previous years, there was a different mood in the air. The war was in its final stages as the Normandy landing had been successful and Allied troops were invading Nazi Germany. There was expectation that 1944 would be the last Christmas that loved ones would be overseas.

For those who remember the war, especially the Christmas of the final year, the 25 things listed below may produce a few fond memories.

1. The Simpson’s windows on Queen Street (The Hudson’s Bay store still honours the tradition today)

2. The Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade, Eaton’s Toyland on the fifth floor, and having our picture taken with Santa. The Eaton’s Parade ended in 1982, and a charitable organization assumed responsibility for it.

3. The Xmas carol sheets that came with the Toronto Star newspaper, with the address for send for extra copies for a family sing-along or a church Xmas concert.

4. The Xmas displays in Kresge’s and Woolworth’s.

5. The dark Xmas cakes and mincemeat pies sold by Eaton’s.

6. Building snow forts, snowball fights, and running along the tops of the snow banks shouting, “I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal.”

7. Singing loudly while snow-ball fighting:  

                There’ll always be and England, There’ll always be a France.                

                There’ll always be a great big hole in Hitler’s Sunday Pants.

        or another song spoof,

     Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk.

     Mussolini is a sheenie, whistle while you work.

These revised words were based on the songs “There’ll always be an England” and the hit from Walt Disney’s film, “Snow White” (1937).

We also changed the words to a few Xmas carols.

     While shepherds washed their socks by night

     All seated round the tub.

     The angel of the Lord came down,

     And taught them how to scrub. 

8. Candy canes in all sizes, some in red and white and others in green and white.

9. Packages of Life Saver candies that came in a carton that opened like a book, sold as stocking stuffers, and only available at Xmas time.

10. The strings of lights hanging over Yonge Street.

11. Packages of Xmas candies sold in Dominion Stores, Loblaws, A&P, Red and White Stores, and Power Stores.

12. The oranges and apples that appeared in our Xmas stockings that were considered a great treat as they were difficult to obtain during the war years.

13. The 15-minute Eaton’s Santa Claus radio broadcast with its theme song from the musical “Babes in Toyland.”

14. The light on the family Xmas trees that were on a single circuit. When one bulb burnt out, the entire string of lights went dark.

15. The corner lot where Xmas trees were sold, the vendor keeping warm by sitting around a fire in a huge oil drum. Artificial trees had not yet appeared. The first day after New Year’s when there was garbage collection, our street was lined with discarded Xmas trees. We dragged away as many as possible and built a pile of them behind our garage. We then climbed on the garage roof and jumped into the trees. My father was not happy when he had to put them out to the garbage in early spring.  

16. Being threatened that if we did not behave we would receive a lump of coal in our Xmas stocking  

17. Xmas tree decorations of wood, glass and paper, as there were no plastic ornaments.

18. The school Xmas party where our parents sent treats. My mother always sent a large tin of butter tarts. Store-bought treat were unheard of in our neighbourhood.

19. Going door-to-door selling boxes of Xmas cards to earn money to buy gifts.

20. Knocking on doors and when people answered we started singing carols. The people invariably gave us a nickel or dime.

21. The Salvation Army band playing carols under a streetlight, while volunteers went door-to-door to collect funds to send parcels to the troops overseas.

22. If we has a paper route, we collected a “fortune” in Xmas tips (25 cents was considered the best we could expect).

23. Getting Brazil nuts in our stocking for the first time, as in 1944 the Atlantic shipping routes had been cleared of Nazi submarines.

24. The extra Xmas matinees at the local theatre.

25. Going skating at night under the lights at the local park, the sound of the slap of the hockey pucks on the boards resounding in the crisp night air. 

           Merry Christmas

A link to the history of the Santa Claus Parade (1905-2015)

A link to five favourite sites in downtown Toronto to view Xmas lights

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:

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It 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 the movie houses of the past. The book is a trip down memory lane for those who remember these grand old theatres and a voyage of discovery for those who never experienced them.  


   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 more 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 70 of the city’s heritage sites with images of how the city once looked and how it appears today. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016.


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Memories of corner stores in Toronto of old


Patoff Grocery at 391 Brock Avenue; to the left of it is Smythe Variety Store. Patoff’s was operated by Sam Patoff. Prior to Sam operating the store, it was called Supreme Store (see flyer below) This information was provided by Leo Darmitz, whose father operated a store at 395 Brock. Leo’s father did not own his store when the above photo was taken, but he states that it looked exactly the same. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, S. 1057, Item 7643


Copy of a 1929 flyer from the Supreme Store at 391 Brock Avenue, when bread was 5 cents a loaf and butter was 22 cents (flyer courtesy of Leo Darmitz).

Toronto is often referred to as a “city of villages.” The Greek Village on Danforth Avenue and the city’s three Chinatowns are favourites of many Torontonians. There are two Italian “villages”— one on St. Clair West and another on College Street. The latter is also referred to as Little Portugal as many Portuguese reside in the area. The Korean Village is on Bloor Street near Christie and the Polish Village on Roncesvalles Avenue. There are many other areas within the city that are referred to as villages, as they share a common ethnicity. However, prior to the 1950s, before Toronto became multicultural, the city was also composed of villages, but they were not defined by ethnicity. 

When I was a boy in the 1940s, our street was akin to a village. In this decade, society was not as transitory as today. Most people bought homes only once in a lifetime. They raised their children in them and remained in the same house after their children had grown and departed. Similarly, it was not uncommon for people to be employed for their entire lives by only one company, beginning when they were young and retiring from the same firm. Unlike today, it was rare for people to be suddenly transferred to cities thousands of miles away, and then after a few years, transferred once more. People put down deep roots in their communities, where they knew their neighbours and shared their concerns.

Frequently, teachers in schools educated the children of parents whom they had taught when they were kids. Married women were not allowed to work as teachers; if they married, they were forced to resign. This meant that female teachers did not take time off to have children and raise them, so the staffs of schools changed little from year to year. The community knew the names of the teachers within their local school, so the teachers were sometimes the topic of discussions in the corner stores.

Our street was no exception. Most families had resided there for many years, a few of them for more than a generation. It was ethnically cohesive, as almost everyone traced their ancestry to the British Isles, as did most of Torontonians. There were also quite a few Newfoundlanders in our neighbourhood, who had immigrated before their native isle joined Canada, in 1949. On our street, when a neighbour died, their passing was mourned by everyone. People offered assistance, which often consisted of food, and grieved with the family that had lost a loved one. Similarly, if a neighbour moved away, which was not often, everyone on the street wished them well, helped them move, and shed a tear as they departed. At the end of of World War II in 1945, as the soldiers returned from overseas, each homecoming was a “village” celebration, not a one-family event. The same was true after the Korean Conflict.

Similar to a rural village, we were aware when we departed the boundaries of our “street-village.” We no longer recognized the people passing on the sidewalk. My family knew almost everyone by name for about a quarter of a mile to the north or south of our house. Only one family on our street owned a car, a black bustle-back 1938 Chevrolet. In the 1940s, everyone walked or boarded a streetcar to go to church or attend a movie theatre. We also walked to the local shops, which were an integral part of our village. Visits to them always entailed meeting neighbours and stopping to chat. When I was a boy, older people greeted me and enquired about my studies at school. I secretly rated adults by the quality of the treats they “shelled-out” on Halloween, or by the amount of the tip they gave me at Christmas time, since I was their paperboy who delivered their daily newspapers.

However, the most important of all the shops were the “corner stores.” We visited them every day, sometimes more than once, as opposed to the churches and theatres that we attended once a week. The “corner stores” varied. They might be a drug store, a variety store, or a grocery store. If you were lucky, your street contained all three, or at least two of these types. Our neighbourhood had a drug store and a grocery store.

Corner stores adjusted their merchandise to accommodate the neighbourhoods. If a grocery store did not sell ice cream, the drug store filled the void. Often, corner stores sold everything except prescriptions, unless it was a drug store. Sometimes, they even stocked items that would normally be found in hardware stores. As a child, I purchased penny candy in them. The endless boxes of sweets were truly a sight to behold, the licorice cigars being my favourite. Today, the only place I know where I am able to see a similar array of candies is in the Kensington Market, at Casa Acoreana, at 297 Augusta Avenue. In this shop, the candies are contained in large bottles. However, there is nothing available for a penny, even the penny now having disappeared into history. (note: since writing this post, Casa Acoreana has closed). 

On hot summer days, at the corner drug store, we bought orange Popsicles for 5 cents, or a Mello Roll ice cream cone for 6 cents. There were only three flavours of cones—vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. A single serving of a Mello Roll ice cream was wrapped in white, wax-coated paper that was peeled back to allow it to be inserted into the cone. This allowed the store owner to place the ice cream in the cone without touching it. Using a scoop to form a ball of ice cream and then placing it in a cone had not yet appeared on the scene. Sprinkles on top of cones only appeared after they were scooped from large containers.

My family sometimes purchased a “brick” of ice cream, on a humid summer evening. An ice cream brick was rectangular in shape, similar to a small building brick. Our favourite flavour was Neapolitan that contained vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream, with a strip of orange in the centre that was similar in texture and taste to an orange Popsicle. Sometimes my dad bought a quart bottle of “Wilson’s Golden Amber Ginger Ale” to make an ice cream float. “Kik Cola” was another favourite soda pop used for this purpose. Sitting on the veranda after dark on a steamy August evening, observing the passing scene on the street, and sipping on an ice cream float or consuming a slice of ice cream cut from a brick, was our definition of heaven.

Our neighbourhood grocery store was where my family purchased our daily needs, though every Saturday my mother went to a small Dominion Store that was a ten-minute walk from our house. Our local grocery store was owned by two brothers, one of whom was the butcher. He never came out from behind the counter during working hours, and some kid started a rumour that the reason was that he did not wear any trousers. Kids giggled whenever they observed him in the store, while trying to determine if the the rumour were true. No child ever solved the mystery.  

The corner store was where my mother purchased butter, sugar, Jell-O powder, and meat. All these items were rationed during the war years, so she handed over government-issued coupons whenever she purchased them. In autumn, outside the store, the rich scent of the purple Concord grapes from Niagara filled the air. They were employed to make jelly to spread on toast on cold winter mornings. Bushels of Ontario sweet corn were stacked alongside baskets of apples, pears, peaches and plums, all adding to the colourful display. My mother bought generous quantities of the fruits to fill her preserving jars. These were stored in our root cellar during the winter months. Similarly, each autumn my father brought home a burlap sack of potatoes and another of onions. These were also stored in the root cellar for winter meals. Imported fruits and vegetables were not available in the 1940s so my mother’s preserves and canned fruit sufficed. As well, many foods were in short supply because of the war.

The corner store was where the news of the “street-village” was disseminated, along with generous portions of gossip. Not all the comments were kind. It was a decade when divorced women, as well as those who had children out of wedlock, were considered shameful. Neighbours who did not properly sweep the sidewalks in front of their houses or whose laundry on the clothesline did not appear clean, were criticized. Those who did not attend any church or worship at a synagogue also received a good share of criticism.

However, corner stores were also where people shared their problems and supported each other. The harsh realities of life were softened by discussing them with neighbours. Health difficulties, problems providing food for the table, loneliness as sons or a husband were overseas, as well as day-to-day stresses were ameliorated by a few sympathetic words spoken at corner stores.

Politics, soap operas on the radio, Hollywood hairstyles, movie stars, and the current films at the local theatre, were all discussed. Another favourite of the gossip mills was the antics of a local Romeo or a woman of “loose morals.” This term encompassed a myriad of mostly trivial nefarious behaviour. Most streets possessed at least one child who spoke about the visits of an “Uncle Harry” on Wednesday nights when their father worked late. The 1940s was a decade when coal, bread and milk were delivered directly to homes, often by horse-drawn wagons. A handsome delivery man elicited many remarks, as well as a few knowing smiles. A child that was better looking than either of his parents was jokingly referred to as another product delivered by the milk or bread man.

News from the war front was usually avoided in the corner shops. Almost every family was touched by the war, as they had a relative, friend or neighbour serving overseas. Discussing the latest battles or casualty reports added to people’s fears. However, though not often discussed, the war remained a concern that lingered beneath the surface of the lives of everyone.

If people wished to discuss conflict with a fierce opponent, a recent argument with a cantankerous mother-in-law sufficed. She did not seem quite so bad after a few jokes about her dentures, a recently purchased girdle or a ridiculous new chapeau. A bit of laughter healed many wounds and kept the demons of war at bay. The mundane topics at the corner store, along with those that were humorous and tragic, reflected the daily life of the community. I do not believe that texting in the modern era fulfills the same role. The personal touch is missing as there is no visual contact, and though Skype is not a particularly a good substitute, WhatsApp and Facetime are quite good.

After World War II ended, a flood of immigrants and refugees arrived in Toronto. Neighbourhoods began to change as Torontonians relocated to the suburbs. Immigrants purchased their homes in the older neighbourhoods as they were less expensive, unlike today when downtown homes command an outrageous price. During the 1950s, multi-cultural Toronto was on the horizon, with an influx of new customs and different foods. Life in Toronto became more transient. Immigrants did not stay in the older areas for long. As they prospered, they too relocated. The village feeling of neighbourhoods diminished, although ethnic enclaves continued many of the traditions of Toronto of old. 

I miss the Toronto of old. Social media and smart phones have replaced conversations in cafes, restaurants and neighbourhoods. However, I believe that the city is now far more exciting, thanks in part to the immigrants who have made Toronto their home. 

Brock 395-1 

Corner store operated by the father of Mr. Darmitz at 395 Brock avenue.  Toronto Achives, Fonds 1257, Series1057, item 7646 . Photo was brought to my attention by Leo Darmitz who located them in the archives and sent me a copy.

Fonds 1266, Item 18008

      A corner drug store, Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266. Item 18008.

Davenport and Dupont, 1930  f1231_it2080[1]

Corner store at Davenport and Dupont Street, Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2080.

View of variety store at the north-west corner of Ontario and Dundas Street East – May 13, 1977

Store at Dundas and Ontario Streets, Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, Fl. 0009, Item 0025.

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              Books by the Author


“ Lost Toronto”—employing detailed archival photographs, this recaptures the city’s lost theatres, sporting venues, bars, restaurants and shops. The richly illustrated book brings some of Toronto’s most remarkable buildings and much-loved venues back to life. From the loss of John Strachan’s Bishop’s Palace in 1890 to the scrapping of the S. S. Cayuga in 1960 and the closure of the HMV Superstore in 2017, these pages cover more than 150 years of the city’s built heritage to reveal a Toronto that once was.



Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” 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 personally experienced these grand old movie houses. To place an order for this book, published by History Press: .

Book also available in most book stores such as Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox and AGO Book Shop. (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2) and may also be purchased on



“Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again” explores 81 theatres. It contains over 125 archival photographs, with interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories. Note: an article on this book was published in Toronto Life Magazine, October 2016 issue.

For a link to the article published by Toronto Life Magazine:…/photos-old-cinemas-dougtaylortoronto-local-movie-theatres-of-y…

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book: 


 Toronto: Then and Now®

“Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. Note: a review of this book was published in Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:

For further information on ordering this book, follow the link to  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21







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