A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for October 2016

[URBAN NOTE] Torontoist on the Halloween eggings of gays on Yonge Street

Amy Grief’s blogTo post</u. about the history of Halloween in Church and Wellesley made mention of Jamie Bradburn’s Torontoist essay from last year, “The Egging of Yonge Street”. This essay noting how the egging of drag queens outside gay bars on Yonge Street was actually a popular custom lasting into the 1980s, provides some real Halloween horror.

[D]uring the 1960s and 1970s, when onlookers congregated on a nearby stretch of Yonge Street at Halloween[,] people lined Yonge between College and Wellesley to jeer drag costume ball attendees. The mob came ready with eggs, ink, and threats.

Several bars along Yonge between College and Wellesley, such as the Parkside Tavern and the St. Charles Tavern began catering to homosexuals by the 1960s, even if their heterosexual owners allowed police to nab clientele. Halloween offered a loophole where, for one night a year, it was fine to flout laws prohibiting men from dressing as women. At other times of the year, it wasn’t unusual for men in drag to be hauled by police down to Cherry Beach and beaten up. This gave rise to costume balls on October 31 which allowed participants to publicly display their sexuality. The parties could be lavish affairs—during Halloween 1969, the August Club at 530 Yonge offered a ball with prizes, buffet, and champagne for $12.50 a head. As the decade ended, the balls drew plenty of onlookers along Yonge Street who, according to the Globe and Mail, “trooped downtown to watch the procession of fabulous female-creatures-who-aren’t.” The paper also observed that the crowd “seemed to regard it as a sort of sophisticated Santa Claus parade.”

The spectacle provoked mixed feelings among some in attendance, as Tony Metie’s account in the debut issue of the gay journal The Body Politic indicates. Metie had gone down to Yonge Street incognito, bringing along a female friend to watch what ensued:

Coming as I did from a town where the very thought of a bar catering exclusively to homosexuals would have driven the local populace to prepare nooses and stakes, the sight of thousands of people gathered to watch men walk the streets openly in female costumes blew my mind. A mixture of emotions was stirred within me. I felt a sense of elation at this blatant display of homosexual culture; it was the first time I had ever seen gay people revealing themselves publicly as gays. When the crowd gasped at some particularly stunning drag queens, I felt a strange sense of pride in being a gay person. But then I would become aware of the jeers and contemptuous laughter, and another part of me would feel ashamed. I realized that the straights were laughing at me, the part of me the drag queens represented. Then I would hate the drag queens. They seemed to be satisfying the straight belief that all faggots were limp-wristed and effeminate. And I knew this wasn’t true; after all, I wasn’t effeminate, was I?

Another early Body Politic piece by Hugh Brewster highlighted the tensions at play:

As soon as the parade is over in front of the St. Charles and the drag queens have gone inside, the mood of the crowd quickly becomes surly and vicious. Gangs of tough adolescents egged on by their girlfriends go looking for “queers” to beat up. The police have an increasingly difficult time controlling the crowds. Ink is thrown and faces get smashed. Last year one sixteen year old in semi-drag was tied to a post and left there until morning. Each year the situation becomes more ugly and potentially explosive. Halloween is on its way to becoming a confrontation between a large gay subculture and a city that pretends it doesn’t exist.

By 1971, police control was required to hold back a hostile crowd estimated up to 8,000 people. While traffic crawled along Yonge between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m., side streets, which offered too many opportunities for bashing, were closed off. The sidewalk for the block around the St. Charles Tavern was guarded by police who, according to the Star, allowed in “only admitted and obvious homosexuals.” Members of the University of Toronto Homophile Association passed out leaflets pleading for understanding.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2016 at 10:30 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “A history of Halloween on Church Street in Toronto”

Amy Grief’s history of Halloween on Church Street at blogTO does a great job of explaining how Church and Wellesley became a nexus of Halloween revelry.

Church Street has become Toronto’s unofficial Halloween destination. Every year, it transforms into a pedestrian-only boulevard packed with people in outrageous and inventive costumes. It’s a party, regardless of the weather and what day Halloween lands on. Work night? Who cares!

But how did this party get started? “It’s one of the events in the City of Toronto that needs very little advertising, but gets numbers of people regardless of it’s cold, or wet, or anything like that,” says Christopher Hudspeth from the Church Wellesley Village BIA.

He says the tradition dates back to the 1960s and 70s. Back then, Halloween gave men a chance to dress in drag – it wasn’t really legal any other day of the year.

Bars on Yonge, like the Parkside Tavern and the St. Charles Tavern, held Halloween balls, and many would come gawk at those attending, writes Jamie Bradburn for Torontoist. In the late 1970s, the crowds turned vicious, mocking, jeering and even throwing eggs at those dressed up.

By the early 1980s, things quieted down on Halloween night, and as bars moved to Church Street, so did the party.

Dean Odorico, who owns the popular bar Woody’s, has watched the annual Halloween festivities grow over the past 27 years. He says Halloween is an important day for the LGBTQ community and that there have been big parties on Church Street for as long as he’s been in the neighbourhood.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2016 at 9:45 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “High Park’s ghost rider is dead and gone”

Hina Alam’s Toronto Star report reminds me that urban folklore is almost always interesting, at least on a Halloween evening.

On a black, cloudless night in April 1903, while a new moon sailed across the heavens, there arose a black mist in Grenadier Pond. Like a widow’s veil, it swirled and snaked — and thickened, until it took human form. A man and a horse then emerged from the water, fire in the man’s eyes and bleeding head.

“There are sounds of groaning, and, lo!, in a trice, the wraith is galloping with the speed of sunlight through the park,” reads a page 2 Toronto Daily Star article from Apr. 22, 1903, sandwiched between a labour report and a police report.

They were among many ghosts said to glide around Grenadier Pond, yet so popular were the rider and his “white nag” that a poem was written in their honour, and people spent many an hour talking about them.

However, the spectral rider and steed haven’t been seen since. It’s been 113 years.

Another news report from May 1903 discusses a man named Ed Clarke who was in court on a charge of drunkenness. Clarke had been in High Park to see the phantom horseman.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2016 at 9:00 pm

[PHOTO] “Portraits of Halloween partygoers in the West Village flying their freak flags high, 1993”

I shared this link on the weekend, but I thought I’d share it again. Dangerous Minds hosts some pretty cool photos of Halloween partiers in New York City’s West Village circa the early 1990s.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2016 at 8:00 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Gifts shouldn’t overshadow good city planning”

I agree almost entirely with Edward Keenan’s argument in the Toronto Star that philantrophy should be used as a supplement, not as a replacement, for initiatives (and spending!) by governments.

Tuesday morning, Mayor John Tory announced that private donors had given the city $3.4 million to help continue to fashion a giant park out of parts of the Don River Valley. This comes just under a year after we learned Judy and Wilmot Matthews would donate $25 million to construct a new park and public space under a stretch of the Gardiner Expressway (the Matthews’ are among the list of donors to the Don Valley project, too).

At the announcement of both projects, Tory made sure to mention not just the city’s gratitude for the donations, but his hope that they would set examples for other wealthy donors.

Which rubs some people the wrong way. “I don’t understand why, in a democratic society, wealthy people get an extra vote about what we build in the city of Toronto,” Councillor Gord Perks told my colleague David Rider. “We elect governments to decide what our priorities are and it undermines the role of government when wealthy people decide instead.”

In a similar vein, city hall writer Neville Park of Torontoist tweeted, “It makes park creation/placement dependent on the whims of wealthy donors, not solid urban planning principles,” and, “I’m afraid this will continue to marginalize places that aren’t tourist hotspots or undergoing ‘revitalization.’”

And they do have a point, if we start to see private donations as a primary or even regular source of income that we can plan around — and further, if we set our city-building priority list based on which projects draw donations from rich folks, and put those that attract less capital on the back burner. It’s not a stray concern in a city that has solicited donations (and made public service decisions contingent on them) when weather in recent years made it possible to consider keeping outdoor ice rinks open longer, and the High Park Zoo was, for a time, kept open because of private donations.

Donations are good! But as city planner Danny Brown replied to Neville Park on Twitter, “Where are the wealthy private donors building affordable housing, donating to the TTC, etc.” They don’t typically pay for those things, and in a way it would be more of a problem if they did — no one wants to see decisions about which impoverished family’s housing is maintained or condemned based on the whims of a rich donor. We, collectively, need to decide our priorities based on our collective needs and wants. And we, collectively, pay for them based on collective resources, typically taxes and fees.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2016 at 7:00 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “The Agony of Watching Toronto’s Transit Planning Unfold”

There is humour to Tricia Wood’s Torontoist article on the absurdity of Toronto transit politics, but I wonder. Theatre reviewers who see this, how would you rate this ongoing drama?

I’m starting to think the Scarborough transit extension plan has the City stuck inside an absurdist play. Every time we’ve convinced ourselves we know what we are doing, someone tells us up is down or less is more.

Every shiny thing must be chased. Let’s see where this path goes! We think we’re getting somewhere, but it’s the train beside us that’s moving. It’s just an optical illusion.

[. . .]

The Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro, has been digging into the details of the long (long, long, long) process of how City Council turned Transit City, a broad LRT network, into a one-stop subway extension to the Scarborough Town Centre.

Combing through almost 4,000 pages of documents obtained through freedom of information requests, Pagliaro discovered that TTC spokesperson Brad Ross emailed a briefing note to the mayor’s office in June, with a confusing estimate of costs for the Scarborough LRT.

Both the process of circulating the memo to the mayor and its content appear a bit out of the ordinary. It nearly doubled the cost of the LRT (from $1.8 to $2.97 billion) by putting its start and completion date years later than they would have been, making those cost figures larger than they would be.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2016 at 6:45 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Report outlines steep costs of running new Toronto transit lines”

Ben Spurr and Jennifer Pagliaro describe in the Toronto Star the immense costs involved with new mass transit routes. Of course, city government has no idea how to pay for them. Yay Toronto transit.

The City of Toronto is on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in transit costs that many believed the province would pay for.

According to a city report released on Monday, Toronto will be responsible for funding the operation and day-to-day maintenance of new LRT lines that the province is paying to build.

The report outlines the outcomes of negotiations between the province and city on a number of transit projects, including the Eglinton Crosstown, Finch West, and Sheppard East LRT lines, as well as Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack plan. It was originally supposed to go before Tory’s executive committee last week but wasn’t completed in time. The terms of the agreement have still to be approved by council.

The report estimates that the gross operating and maintenance costs for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will be $80 million a year when it opens in 2021. The cost will be offset by increased fare revenue and savings the TTC will reap by not running bus service on Eglinton, bringing the net cost to the city down to $39 million a year.

Estimates for the gross operating costs of the other provincially funded LRT lines are: $51.5 million in 2022 dollars for the Finch West LRT, and $38.1 million in 2025 for the Sheppard East LRT.

It’s not clear how the city will raise the funds to operate and maintain these lines.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2016 at 6:30 pm