HELLO,TORONTOMY, HOW YOU'VE CHANGED!
A prim-visaged city with small-town ways—that's what the author left four years ago. Now he's back —but the old place has gone. Here's the changeling he's found instead—Canada's high-rising, high-living, heady new sophisticate
MARVIN TEPERMAN, of Toronto, is probably the first professional wrecker to be set to music. Two of his friends, Bernie Orenstein and Bill Butler, wrote a song, Mr. Teperman, as a gag, and a third friend, Diane Miller, the chanteuse, added it to her nightclub repertoire and recorded it for Columbia. In it there is the recurring line: “So why, tell me why, Mr. Teperman, arc you wrecking my heart?”
While Miss Miller belts the plaintive words out in a husky sexy voice, the heart Teperman has been wrecking is not that of a woman — he’s happily married — but that of the old Toronto. There’s a new Toronto now'. It may still bear the marks of uncompleted growth — bare forests of structural steel, the shells of gutted buildings, the rubble ol demolition — but this new' Toronto is a different and more interesting and far more sophisticated place.
It is, in a sense, a bit like that outworn cliché of fiction, the girl
next door — the awkward one who blossoms into a beauty. The metamorphosis, by my reckoning, takes about four years in the case of the girl. It will take more time in the case of Toronto, but four years have wrought incredible changes.
When I lelt Toronto in mid-1960 to be Washington editor of Maclean's, it was a pleasant enough community. It was prosperous and comfortable. It had a tine university, a symphony orchestra, fledgling opera and ballet companies. It had Canada’s only subway, Canada’s most bizarre castle, a good art gallery, a good museum, and what was then the tallest skyscraper in the British Commonwealth. But it had, too, a small-town syndrome.
When I came back in late 1964, not just the architecture, not just the traffic arteries, but the whole mood had been transformed. A lot can happen in four years, as 1 have been reminded by Penny Williams, a young editorial assistant on Maclean’s. She’s a graduate of York University, which didn't start until 1960. Furthermore, in the spring of 1963 she was dating a young man who was an art dealer in the Gerrard Street Village, then Toronto's equivalent of New York’s Greenwich Village. In the song about Marvin Teperman there’s a fragment:
Now what’s he got?
Just another parking lot.
The section ol the Gerrard Street Village where Penny's date sold
pictures is “just another parking lot” — for the Toronto General Hospital— but the young man is selling pictures in Toronto’s YorkvilleCumberland Village, a renovated sprawl that is more like Greenwich Village than Gerrard Street was in its Bohemian heyday. YorkvilleCumberland is packed with gift shops, antique shops, coffee houses, commercial art galleries, the establishments of couturiers, and, in the warm weather, outdoor cafés. It has a restaurant called the Inn On The Parking Lot — a poor man’s version of Toronto's fashionable Inn On The Park. It has more folk singers and guitar strummers than Greenwich Village itself. Apart from that it has the Old World Cheese Shop, which Gerald Seldon set up to keep his wife Joan amused.
Seldon, an advertising man, always preferred cheese to candy — so much so that he had rare and often ripe varieties airmailed to him from a dozen countries. Now his wife's tiny enterprise has expanded so much that he has had to quit advertising to help her. and the Old World Cheese Shop — which claims to have the greatest assortment of cheeses in North America — has two branches and a restaurant specializing in cheese dishes.
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CHIC VILLAGE AND MINK ROW
Not content with what's left of the Genard Street Village and the Yorkville-Cumberland Village, Toronto has a third version of Greenwich Village: Honest Ed's Markham Street Village. Honest Ed is. of course, actually Edwin Mirvish, a remarkable impresario who, with his wife as his sole assistant, founded his fortune with a hole-in-thecorner. cut-rate store that grew and grew to a king-sized cut-rate store with scores of clerks, a force of uniformed security guards, and a prodigious turnover.
It thrived on such slogans as “Honest Ed is crazy to offer such bargains," but once he had the means, Mirvish. who is a polished and literate man, acquired Toronto's tradition-steeped legitimate theatre, the Royal Alexandra, and spent close to five hundred thousand dollars redecorating it. lts décor now' compares favorably with that of that pride ol Broadway, the Lunt-Fontanne.
Meanwhile the old furnishings — broadloom, chairs, pictures, curtains, marquee, plus a dash of humor — have gone into the creation of a second and considerably less lavish theatre, the Poor Alex.
The Markham Street Village — once a row of stately dwellings that fell on evil days, a process not retarded by the crowd that flocked to nearby Honest Ed's — is now owned by Mirvish. who has converted it into an art colony. Mirvish himself is responsible for the exterior
decorating, which includes, in the middle of the row and for no par-
ticular reason, a towering and brightly colored totem pole.
Edwin's son David is proprietor of one of the art galleries there. As a footnote on the Mirvishes. Edwin's brother Robert, the author of more than a dozen published novels, lives in New York and is the
booking agent for the Royal Alex, while Edwin Mirvish says, “Toronto has got everything going for it now. It's like electricity in the air.
This is going to be the New York of Canada.”
While activities such as those of Ed Mirvish, and picturesque neighborhoods such as the Yorkville-Cumberland Village and the Markham Street Village, are manifestations of Toronto’s maturity, there are more important manifestations, such as the controversial new city hall, which has been described by some as an oyster shell, by some as a corn silo, and by some as a soaring and magnificent example of architectural poetry.
This stands where much of Toronto's Chinatown once stood, and Marvin Teperman clearly remembers that both his grandfather and his father, professional wreckers like himself, said nobody could budge Chinatown. In the end. Marvin did. In their song about him, Orenstein and Butler say:
He always looks so shy And full of beg-your-pardons.
But watch the gleam in his eye Any time he walks by The Maple Leaf Gardens.
It seems inconceivable now that Maple Leaf Gardens could pass from the Toronto scene, but two generations hence, who knows?
And whether you lament the demise of the old Chinatown, whether you like the new city hall or not, it's a break with tradition, the multimillion-dollar result of an international architectural competition won by a Finn, and the most eye-catching building in Canada. It is utterly unlike any other city hall, with its crescent-shaped towers, its mushroomdomed core, its rainbow arches, its observation ramp and its spacious square that has, in the winter, an outdoor rink. It is, besides, completely cosmopolitan: you couldn't imagine it in a place that felt a self-conscious urge for conformity and there are moments when I wonder whether it is really true that in Toronto, which once had a reputation from coast to coast for dignified stuffiness, people go to the city hall to skate.
This strange city hall is already influencing the design of other buildings. Apartment blocks in Toronto, for instance, were formerly square or oblong. Now they are just as likely to be U-shaped, octagonal or circular.
And who would have dreamed of those venerable department-store rivals, Eaton's and Simpson's, with branches under one roof? Yet there they are on the northerly fringe of Toronto, with ninety other firms in the Yorkdale Shopping Centre, the biggest entirely enclosed shopping centre on earth, which has parking space for sixty-five hundred to seven thousand cars and has drawn a quarter of a million customers in a day. Eaton's and Simpson’s may be separated by hundreds of feet of broad mall, by palms and other tropical
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Bagel bakery, boutiques to boula-boula-the new Toronto has them all
foliage and by benches for the footsore and weary, and may vie with each other by providing spectacular fountains and similar attractions. But they are under the same roof, together w'ith Birks, the Bagel King Bakery. Smitty’s Pancake House, two movie theatres, three banks, a brace of loan companies, an auto dealer, a shop that sells Eskimo carvings, and, in what is labeled the “bazaar area,” a kiosk where a dark-eyed, exotic girl in a silk sari sells handicrafts from India.
The intricacies of trade are weird and wonderful. The Yorkdale Shopping Centre, w'hich occupies an eighty-six-acre site, planted the trees on its roof by helicopter, and has a baronet. Sir Brian Edward Stanley Mountain, as its chairman, pulled a fair quota of shoppers from Bloor Street, which is practically downtown and regarded itself as Toronto's Mink Row. Two entrepreneurs, Alex and Harry Rubin, brothers from Edmonton who switched with vast success from dry cleaning to construction, figured they could pull the mink buyers back to Bloor w'ith a new concept — the Colonnade. This is, in effect, a town under one roof. You can rent a bachelor studio there for as little as one hundred and thirty dollars a month or a penthouse with a rooftop swimming pool for fourteen hundred a month. There's a theatre there, and a fancy grocer, and thirteen stores, and an abundant supply of doctors and dentists. There are half a hundred boutiques — a boutique, as far as I can discover, being a tiny shop of the type that, in another era, was designated as a shoppe. One of them deals exclusively in myna birds, with prices rising according to the size of a bird's vocabulary.
The Colonnade houses three of Toronto's ten “most eligible bachelors.” It also has John Dawson, an elderly, spry, bearded engineer w'ho prefers prospecting and heads for the north in the summer loaded down with duffel bags. And it has a mayor, Sam Bloom, aged eighty-two, who was a
boy juggler in vaudeville, a piano player in silent movies, and, in due course, the proprietor of twenty-seven movie houses. While he wasn't elected mayor by a formal vote, fellow' tenants hung a chief-magistrate’s chain on his neck.
Spaghetti Junction to Hamlet
In the new Toronto, I find myself roaming around like an explorer, discovering such things as “Spaghetti Junction,” the bewildering tangle of twenty-six overpasses on several different levels that cross a short stretch of Highway 401; and such things as the O'Keefe Centre, now a landmark to most Torontonians, yet so exciting if you weren't in Toronto when it was built (for twelve million dollars by the O'Keefe Brewing Company). At the opening of the Canadian Opera Company's latest season, I was among the thirty-two hundred in the centre's cherrywood-paneled auditorium, gawking at the elegant customers and splendid stage sets, listening to lovely voices, and being bemused and impressed that in such a brief period the centre had become part of theatrical history. It was here, I recalled, that Camelot and Dylan had opened; here that Elizabeth Taylor had watched Richard Burton rehearsing Hamlet. The Metropolitan Opera Company had performed here, and the Kirov Ballet, and the Royal Ballet, and the New York Philharmonic, and here the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company at last found a worthy home base. At the other end of the pole, the Ed Sullivan Show had been broadcast from here.
Toronto, with its O'Keefe Centre, its Royal Alex, its Massey Hall, its position as the main source of Canada’s English-language television and radio programs, its host of small theatres and night clubs, is rated in cultural and entertainment terms next to New York by the Toronto Star, which puts it ahead of Chicago and San Francisco and far ahead of Montreal. Local pride may have entered into this appraisal. Yet, allowing for local pride in heavy doses, Toronto is “no mean city,” to borrow
the title of one of the new books about it.
Metro Toronto, a federation of thirteen municipalities, has a population that exceeds 1,700,000 and, at the current level of growth, will pass 2,000,000 by 1970. Of the present 1,700,000-plus, 600,000 are from
other countries, mostly European, and 400,000 from elsewhere in Canada, so that if Canada has a “melting pot,” Toronto is it. The average Torontonian is young — a third of them are under twenty and two thirds under forty-five.
They are, as a whole, well off: the assessed value of land and buildings in Metro is $4,700,000,000 or $3,000 for every man, woman and child. And Toronto, with 4,000,000 people
— a fifth of Canada’s population with an estimated third of Canada's purchasing power — living within a radius of 100 miles, has, in round numbers, 5,000 factories with an annual production of $4,000,000,000 worth of goods. The typical Toronto industrial worker, at the close of 1963, was earning $1.96 an hour.
It once was said, not without a degree of accuracy, that city jobs were reserved for Protestants, and especially for Orangemen. Now a third of the residents of Toronto proper and a quarter of the residents of Metro Toronto are Roman Catholics, the new tolerant Toronto has just elected its second Jewish mayor, and the politicians have amended their hiring policies.
And if you can abide more statistics, Toronto can be reached by twelve highways and ten railway lines, and 225 trains, 50,000 trucks and 300 airplanes move in and out each day. The airport handles 2,500,000 passengers a year. Although it is on fresh water, Toronto can also be classified, I guess, as a seaport. At a single pier, one day last fall, there were ships from Japan, Germany and The Netherlands. This stems from the St. Lawrence Seaway. It’s all part of the new Toronto.
And while the newspapers are headlining the Battle of the Skylines
— Montreal has edged Toronto’s thirty-four-story Canadian Imperial
Bank of Commerce head office out with an Imperial-Commerce fortythree-story tower, but Toronto will regain predominance with the erection of the Toronto-Dominion Bank’s fifty-five-story tower — I'd like to mention another and quieter contest between Canada's two biggest cities. It could be tagged the Battle of the Restaurants.
As almost everybody knows, Montreal has been, historically, a gourmet’s heaven, and Toronto (save for those lucky enough to stumble into a couple of exceptional spots) has been a gourmet’s hell. A discriminating Czech gourmet, who is employed by the Consumers’ Gas Company, has managed to compile a list of ninety-eight good restaurants in Toronto — a list that might be still longer if it included those that cook, exclusively, with electricity. Karel Drew, the gourmet in question, would hardly be human if he didn’t have a predilection for his employer's customers.
But, since returning to Toronto, I’ve tried so many of his recommendations that my clothes seem to be shrinking. As a case in point, at the Inn On The Park the other night I had a concoction called boula-boula, which is a mixture of pea soup and turtle soup topped with glazed whipped cream, followed by a huge slab of really rare roast beef, followed by a confection called a swan's neck — a lifelike swan made of meringue, whipped cream and ice cream, no less. Truly, this is a new Toronto.
There are other bench marks of this newness, such as the checkered grass - and - concrete mall that runs down the centre of University Avenue, dozens of hotels and motels that weren’t here before, and fountains nearly everywhere. And there are the new faces, the new accents, the new customs, the young couples strolling with arms around each other, as though it were the accepted fashion in prim and righteous Toronto, and smooching unabashedly on park benches, as much at home as though they were in Paris, or Rome, or Berlin, or London, or Vienna, or New York, or, let’s face it, Toronto. ★