How to spot the compensatory rewards of life in the impersonal Big Town

ALEXANDER ROSS November 1 1968


How to spot the compensatory rewards of life in the impersonal Big Town

ALEXANDER ROSS November 1 1968


How to spot the compensatory rewards of life in the impersonal Big Town


LIVING IN TORONTO is a transaction. To take up residence in English-speaking Canada’s only bigleague city involves a complex balancing of economic risks and psychic rewards. Whether or not this process is worthwhile depends on your own goals, tastes and motivations. You’ve got to need the good things a big city offers — success, excitement, privacy, freedom, a sense of being where the action is — before the transaction can be worthwhile, because these arc the only compensations for living in a city that is as impersonal, as ugly, as overpriced and as self-satisfied as Toronto.

True Torontonians grasp this instinctively. They know that — putting it in Soul language — you’ve got to pay your dues to do your thing. These notes, therefore, are directed to those outsiders who aren’t familiar with the terms of the Toronto Transaction.

What follows is a list of some of Toronto's urban compensations: its theatres, restaurants, folklore, neighborhoods, rituals and small pleasures. It will be argued that many of these things are exclusive, elusive, expensive, status-oriented and irrelevant to 90 percent of the people who inhabit the city. That is perfectly true. But it’s also true that these are the things that make Toronto worthwhile for the minority who are able to enjoy them. And if you don’t want to enjoy them, or can’t afford to, you’d probably be better off living somewhere else.


Toronto has enjoyed (or suffered from) a fantastic land boom for the past two decades. This, combined with the usual ineptitudes and indifference of three levels of government, means that housing is a hideous problem for almost everybody. In most big Canadian cities, the “squalor threshold” — the price at which you can rent a family-sized apartment that doesn’t feature cockroaches and peeling yellow wallpaper — is around $90. In Toronto proper it’s at least $140 a month. Recently, .Senator Wallace McCutcheon was asking $250,000 for his house on Lonsdale Road — a pretty grand house, admittedly, but you could probably buy the same thing in Fredericton or on Winnipeg’s Wellington Crescent for about $60,000. The Toronto Globe and Mail carries ads for houses priced at upward of $150,000 every day. It’s difficult to buy a good house downtown with much less than a $10,000 downpayment. Housing is so tough, in fact, that some people commute from such places as Orillia (80 miles away) and Port Hope (55 miles).

The rule seems to be that if you have a family, you shouldn’t move to Toronto unless you’ve got at least $5,000 cash. This will enable you to buy some kind of a house and, a few years later, sell it for a huge and immoral profit, which will benefit you only if you’re leaving town — otherwise you have to buy another and make a huge profit for someone else.

Bearing these grim facts in mind, it can be stated that Toronto is one of the few remaining North American cities with a series of pleasant, diverse, character-full neighborhoods close to / continued on page 75

continued from page 37

Swimming pools, saunas, girls in bikinis in the elevators

the city’s downtown core. For those who can afford them, here’s a rundown of the neighborhoods that make Toronto worthwhile:

DOWNTOWN: This means anywhere below St. Clair Avenue, and between Bathurst and Parliament Streets, a quadrangle that contains such diverse attractions as the Bloor Street boutique belt, Marshall McLuham’s house, most of the swingle apartment buildings — and Rosedale. Rosedale is probably the most beautiful, and expensive;, residential area in the country, an enchanted grove of stately elms, curving streets and $70,000 mini-mansions. If you're single, there are a lot of great flats available; Rosedale residents often rent out their top floors, like impoverished peers. Next best are streets like MacPherson, Rathnelly, Farnham, Marlborough, Woodlawn and Cottingham. Forty years ago these were stolidly working-class; now they've been colonized by anti-suburbanites who have renovated entire streets into neo-Edwardian artsy elegance. Behind the Down-house facades, however, such streets are reassuringly suburban: PTA meetings, hibachis in the backyard, scads of kids and ice-cream trucks that appear magically just before suppertime. Downtown is also where some of the best high-rise apartments are. If you’re single and don't know anybody, your best bet is some such place as St. James Town, a massive apartment complex that has managed to achieve a fairly chummy atmosphere. Some promising high-rise streets: St. George, Alexander, Merton. Rents in such buildings start around $140 for a “studio” apartment. which means you sleep in the living room. Swimming pools, sauna baths are almost standard, and it's possible to meet girls in bikinis in the elevators. In the luxury class you can't do better than the Colonnade, Benvenuto Place or Sutton Place, a new apartment hotel that has acquired a faintly racy reputation because. shortly after it opened, stock promoter Myer Rush was almost killed by a bomb planted under his bed.

MIDTOWN: The poiht is, there are so many neighborhoods in Toronto that’s it's statistically probable you'll find one to suit you. Money isn’t always the determining factor; TV interviewer Larry Zolf lives by choice on Boulton Avenue, in the heart of the welfare belt, because he enjoys feeling nostalgic about the Depression. Following is a list of streets and areas, designed for house-hunters unfamiliar with the city, that have character, charm and still-reasonable prices. High Park: dozens of streets near Toronto’s biggest park are suitable for colonizing. But hurry: prices are rising since they extended the Bloor Street subway. Parkdale: a rundown area around King Street West that’s ripe for renovation. Parliament Street: a fabled slum now in the early stages of colonization by the middle class. Whole streets (Alpha Avenue is one) have been renovated.

THE SUBURBS: Much of Toronto's suburbia is a vast wasteland

where TV antennae have replaced trees (except for skinny, pathetic maples with taped-up trunks) and where the bungalows are so much alike that you’d think only a west Alberta coon dog could find his way home — or be dumb enough to try. A few developments — notably Citadel Village and Don Valley Woods — have been re-

deemed by good design, and some of the older suburbs are slowly acquiring a patina of vegetation and individuality. Don't be deceived, incidentally, by the real-estate slogan “Twenty minutes from downtown.” That may be true enough at 3 a.m. During rush hours such places tend to be at the end of a coronary-producing. 45-min-

ute crawl up the Don Valley Parkway.

THE EXURBS: The provinciallyowtied GO Train, a commuter line that runs along the lakeshore just when you need it, will eventually make exurban living feasible for hundreds of thousands. The initial beneficiaries live in such lakeshore exurbs as Pickering and Oakville, where life is still countrified and prices not wholly insane. Pressure is mounting on the provincial government at

Advice for investors: Go north, young man—and buy land

Queen’s Park to GO north — and a lot of smart money has already gone. “The best thing a young man can do is buy land between Toronto and Lake Simcoe,” says one 40-year-okl millionaire. Mini-estates near Newmarket, Brampton and Claremont provide, apart from a foolproof investment or a future homesite, a

chance to get out of town periodically on a picnic, or simply to go for a walk in the fields. Such pastoral pleasures are never sold short by experienced Torontonians.


A Montrealer would never concede the point, but Toronto's restaurants,

nightclubs and bars are now numerous and diverse enough to justify the big-league label. Theatrical agents will tell you that, after New York and Los Angeles, it's the liveliest entertainment town in North America. Here is a partial list of some notable establishments, grouped according to social ambience:

GLORIOUS VULGARITY: Orgiastic rock music, go-go girls (some of them topless, which in Toronto means with pasties), surly waiters, raw prole vitality.

Where: Mostly along Yonge

Street’s Strip, between Dundas and Gerrard. The Zanzibar, Le Coq D'Or, Friars are typical of the type.

Clientele: Everyone from publishers to prostitutes, and lonely bachelors, young marrieds on the town, pairs of very clean boys, groups of office girls giggling into their Pink Ladies.

Sounds: Full - decibel, noncerebral rock. .Second-string acts like Bo Diddley or Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins. Scraping of chairs as the management packs a few more in. Shouted conversations above the din. Shrill laughter.

Dress: Practically anything.

Price: A couple can get through an evening for five dollars if they stick to beer, but the decibel level limits most patrons to two or three drinks.

PAST RECAPTURED: These are the establishments that specialize in the yesteryear sounds, from Dixieland jazz to pre-Beatle folk.

Where: You can hear such jazz stars as Eddie Condon, Vic Dickinson, Stan Getz, Lonnie Johnston, Don Ewell and Jackie and Roy almost anytime; Toronto is one of the few remaining cities where they draw crowds. The best places are the Colonial, Town Tavern, Golden Nugget and the Embassy. The Brunswick

House, formerly an unremarkable pub on Bloor Street, now delivers some'of the best evening’s entertainment iin town by letting its patrons sing, dance, play ukuleles and musical saws.

Clientele: As above, plus collegiate couples and aging jazz buffs.

Sights and Sounds: Weird overheard conversations. Old arrangements of After You’ve Gone and Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home. Beautiful colored girls. Regulars who look like mobsters or ex-football stars. Famous jazz musicians, old enough to be your grandfather, who’ll sometimes sit with you between sets.

THE YOUTH SCENE: Despite last summer’s hepatitis scare, the partial displacement of the flower children by adolescent uglies and a general air of malaise, Yorkville and environs are still worth a visit.

Where: Yorkville Avenue, Cumberland Street and Avenue Road, where the action embraces a variety of lifestyles. from the Bod Pod (a lavish new discothèque for affluent swingers) to Boris’s (an emphatically teeny hangout from which several creditable rock groups have emerged). If you're over 30 and don’t like to feel mistrusted, stick to such tolerant places as the Penny Farthing (sidewalk café in front, tiny swimming pool in back), the Riverboat (which books all the good folk singers who aren’t big enough to fill Massey Hall) and the Mynah Bird. Don’t overlook discothèques outside Yorkville: Granny’s, Passionella (membership required, but instantly available) and the Banana Factory.

Clientele: Nice young people, junior excecs and their dates, scads of stunning girls, a sprinkling of expense-account types, surprisingly few hard-core hippies.

Sights and Sounds: Much gunning of 650 c.c. motorcycle engines. Kids wandering around stoned on heaven knows what: perhaps just the chutzpah of it all. Milling throngs of action-seekers overflowing the sidewalks onto the road. A tranvestite on a bicycle. A paraplegic hippie in a wheelchair. Amplified sounds spilling out of basement doorways. Draft - dodgers hawking Satyrday and Harbinger, Yorkville’s two underground newspapers. Cops everywhere. Clucking of dismay from elderly tourists.

FREEMASONRY BARS: Toronto’s big enough to have a selection of watering holes for certain types of people.

Where: The Pilot Tavern, Mahoney’s, the Park Plaza Roof Lounge, the bar at the Four Seasons Hotel, the Celebrity Club.

Clientele, Sights and Sounds: At the Pilot, real artists, people just back from India or Morocco, unpublished novelists and, almost always, Robert Markle, whose marvellous drawings were declared obscene by the Supreme Court. At the Park Plaza, newspaper and magazine types who all know and dislike each other. Admen go to Mahoney’s, the only place in Toronto, and perhaps Ontario, where you can drink standing up at the bar. Also, for some reason, a lot of Englishmen talking about rugger. At the Celebrity Club and Four Seasons, practically nobody but CBC types, including stagehands discussing

Nietzsche and nationally famous intellectuals comparing tax write-offs.


This list, obviously, can’t be definitive. But it covers a few of Toronto’s really exceptional eating places. Prices, unless otherwise specified, range from moderate ($12 for two, with wine) to expensive.

Three Small Rooms: A mini-complex of dining spots in the Windsor Arms Hotel; easily one of the country’s best. Decor a triumph of taste.

Le Provençal: Big and busy, excellent French cuisine. Attached are The Negresco, an intimate bar, and The Hind Quarter, which is mainly for lunch.

Winston’s: Great food, extravagant decor, a trifle too celebrity-conscious.

Ed’s Warehouse: The eating adjunct to the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Tiffany lampshades, Edwardian decor, roast beef.

Toronto-Dominion Centre: Toronto’s answer to Place Ville Marie contains restaurants under the same management, all first-class. The Heritage Room, on the lower level of the ground-floor shopping concourse, is probably Canada’s most expensive.

Le Baron Steak House: Heroic slabs of sirloin for purists, charred on top, blood-red in the middle and tender as the Idaho potatoes.

The Kwongchow: Not the most extravagant Chinese food emporium; merely the best. John Diefenbaker likes to sample the shrimp dishes.

The Moorings: Better seafood than you’d have any right to expect in land-lubbing Ontario. Fishnets and barn siding.

The Imperial Room (Royal York Hotel): Multitudinous forks, courses and hovering waiters in a setting of glittering regality. Still the best wine cellar in town.

Julie’s: Uneven but often marvelous meals in the Massey mansion on Jarvis Street, refurbished with taste and affection.


Ten years ago, Torontonians used to drive to Buffalo to sample the delights of Sears and J. C. Penney’s. Today, Buffalo shoppers shuffle off to Toronto to buy what isn’t available at home. The main reason is the boutique explosion, which has spawned scores of intimate little emporiums specializing in everything from bathroom accessories to antique comicbooks. You’ll find them in several neatly defined areas: along Bloor, Yorkville, Cumberland and Davenport, cheek - by - sideburn with the hippie district; on Markham Street, beside Honest Ed’s famous discount department store; in the “lower village,” around Gerrard and Bay; and intermingled with the junk stores along Queen Street West near University Avenue.

Some standouts: Poupée Rouge

(several branches): instantly recognizable styles by designer Susie Kosevics have become sort of uniform for Fashionable Toronto Womanhood; she also did the mini-dresses worn by Trudeau’s “Orange Guards” at the Liberal convention. Memory Lane

Inflatable sofas to paper dresses

(Markham Street): proprietor George Hendersen has read, and apparently stocks, every comicbook produced since 1937. Queen Victoria Slept Here (Yonge Street): campy stuff for sale, and reruns of ancient movies at night. The Fireplace (Cumberland): just that — nothing but fireplace accessories and Franklin stoves. The Unicorn (several branches): delightfully diverse. Paper Things (Bloor Street): operated by the National Ballet Guild stocks paper dresses, paper ashtrays, etc. Old World Cheese Shop (Yonge Street, and Wellington): for gourmet* who can’t find what they want at the supermarket. Habitat (Victoria at Dundas): furniture of the future, including inflatable sofas. Phase One (Yonge Street): extravagant clothes for kids. Ezzthetic (Yonge Street): Rudi Gernreich’s Toronto outlet. Dollies (Bay at Elm): a new fashion boutique, one of the best.


Shopping in the m/7/W-European outdoor ambience of the Kensington Market. Cheering in Italian at the soccer games in Varsity Stadium. Looking in other people's windows through the coin-operated telescopes on the top-floor observation gallery at the Toronto-Dominion Centre. Rowing through the neo-Venetian canals of the Toronto Islands. Scrounging bargains at the Crippled Civilians. Toronto’s most fashionable junk emporium. Pretending to bid on French

impressionists and vintage RollsRoyces at Ward-Price’s, the auctioneers. Getting all the household knives sharpened by the men who walk around Toronto with grinding wheels, ringing small bells. Exploring the ravines that crisscross central Toronto like an underground canal system. Reading the three dailies; Toronto is still one of the best newspaper towns in North America. Just being in town during the two magic weeks between summer and winter.


Not the least of Toronto's psychic rewards is the facility residents have of getting away from it. It sometimes seems easier, for example, to fly to New York for the weekend than to drive home from work to Scarborough. Once out of town by car. the Torontonian finds himself in a web of highways, most of them super, hustling him east (Montreal), west (Niagara and New York State) or north (the cottage country). Hustling, that is. except Friday and Saturday evenings on the 400 to Muskoka and Georgian Bay. The cottage — once summer, now winterized — is something of a Toronto institution. Cottagers claim that it’s well worth the three-hour drive to Lake Kashagawigamog, just to subside in a hammock with a quadruple rum-and-Coke. The Haliburton Highlands are next to boom, developers say. The traffic s a little better that way. too. ★