Influenza 1920

See the post, Influenza 1918, for more on the topic of the influenza pandemic on McRoberts Avenue.

Having been through waves of deadly influenza in 1918 and 1919, Toronto was more prepared for the 1920 flu season. In Earlscourt, the epidemic had been very hard on the neighbourhood and the Earlscourt Women’s Workers and the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Earlscourt Great War Veterans’ Association (GWVA) had learned many lessons about how to best organize and what was most needed.

It can be a particular challenge to research married women’s lives from this period and so many of the women who served the community at this time are very hard to positively identify. Newspaper articles typically mention them only by their husbands’ names, often without even a full name — just an initial, or none at all! Unless there are other clues to their identity like an address or a unique name, or they suffered some other kind of triumph or tragedy, it can be hard to know much about them at all. Yet they were all incredibly giving and brave in the time that they gave to their sick and bereaved neighbours, at a time when they knew that they could be at risk of losing their own lives. I have spent weeks researching some of the work done during the flu epidemic, and there are many mysteries and gaps in the volunteers’ identities and lives that I hope will continue to come to light.

The first wave of the flu hit in October 1918. Cases and deaths then tapered off by Christmas, but then rebounded in early 1919. For Christmas 1918, the Star Santa Claus Fund — which had been established by Toronto Star founder Joseph Atkinson and Earlscourt Methodist Church minister Rev. Peter Bryce and still operates today — made a special plan for those impacted by the flu. In the December 26, 1918 Toronto Daily Star, a report on Earlscourt said, “every widow who had lost her husband from influenza was placed on the list to receive a box.” Mrs. Alex Johnson was in charge of the distribution that year, covering the area from Weston Road east to Avenue Road, and from Davenport Road north to the Fairbank district. The Star reported that over 100 homes in the area received this special box of “food and other comforts.”

During this first wave of flu, the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the GWVA was led by president Mrs. Cohen (she is one of the women I would dearly love to learn more about. In the Star, she is variously mentioned as Mrs. H., Mrs. A., or Mrs. J. Cohen.) The Secretary was a Mrs. Barker. This group of women met and made decisions independent of the male GWVA executive. This was probably fortunate for the Auxiliary, as the GWVA proper had a number of leadership upsets in the period immediately following the war, starting with the February 1919 resignation of McRoberts Avenue resident Staff Sergeant-Major T.H. Barclay as President.

The mission of the Auxiliary was focused first on taking local action. The February 25, 1918 Toronto Daily Star reported that for the first time, all districts of Toronto with an active GWVA branch had also completed the formation of an Auxiliary. (This article notes that the final group to be formed was the Central Division, where the Sir Henry Pellatt Chapter of the I.O.D.E. was invited to form the first Auxiliary. As a result, Mrs. Ambrose Small became President, a year before her husband became “The Missing Millionaire,” as he is described in Katie Daubs’ new book on the disappearance of Ambrose Small.)

Membership in the Auxiliary was open to any woman interested in the welfare of soldiers. The Star article listed five aims for the new Central Division Auxiliary:

  1. “To work in conjunction with the local bodies of the Great War Veterans’ Association.
  2. “To assist in providing for the dependants of the soldiers now overseas.
  3. “To endeavor to promote the welfare and comfort of the men who return to Canada and their dependants.
  4. “To assist from time to time in raising funds for a clubhouse for the men of the central division.
  5. “To assist in arranging entertainments and functions for the local branch and in providing funds for the necessary work of relief.”

In Earlscourt, the Auxiliary carried out all of these types of activities which suggests a similar set of aims. Both the men’s and women’s branches of the Earlscourt GWVA used Belmont Hall at 1217 St. Clair West as the base for their activities. This is now the Consiglio Building and has been remodelled, but it was first constructed in about 1914 as a theatre and assembly hall. Toronto historian Doug Taylor writes more about its later history as a movie theatre called the Royal George, with some great local pictures, on his website Historic Toronto.

The Earlscourt Auxiliary was constantly busy. In 1918 and 1919 it hosted popular weekly euchre parties and dances as well as monthly “masquerade ball” fundraisers at Belmont Hall. There were also work parties for soldiers’ comforts, planning meetings and subcommittees, special dinners, individual relief cases, and other activities that arose in cooperation with other neighbourhood efforts like patriotic rallies, bond drives, and parades. It’s no wonder that there was regular turnover in the leadership, although there were no public controversies reported as there were for the men’s branch.

Masquerade Party 1920
In 1920, the Auxiliary was still holding masquerade dances at Belmont Hall, a tradition that dated back to the beginning of the GWVA Ladies Auxiliary in Earlscourt in 1918.

An example of groups working together was reported in the July 11, 1918 edition of the Toronto Daily Star. GWVA Auxiliary president Mrs. H. Cohen (sic.) was organizing an impromptu work party at Belmont Hall to help the Earlscourt Women’s Workers fundraising idea to make and sell French flags for the upcoming “French Flag Day” celebrations to be held in the city. Earlscourt had just gone crazy for a group of visiting French “Blue Devils,” who paraded on July 2 in front of a Sunday morning crowd of 20,000 people at St. Clair and Dufferin. The July 2, 1918 edition of the Toronto Daily Star described the enthusiasm that met the event. Mrs. Cohen and Earlscourt Women’s Workers president Mrs. Gavin Segar (who was, I believe, Annie Segar who lived at 137 Greenlaw Avenue) were mentioned among those who greeted and presented bouquets to the visiting French soldiers. Annie Segar’s idea to make and sell flags was inspired by the parade and it seems that the women just kicked into action.

Despite all they had been through and the ravages of flu and war and economic depression, the spirit of hard work and cooperation was still alive in Earlscourt in 1920. On February 10, 1920, a city-wide call went out in the Toronto Daily Star, as the flu pandemic had ramped up again. “Still Need Workers and Supplies Also,” read the headline. The Neighbourhood Workers Association had opened 14 depots across Toronto to supply those struck with the flu and needed more help urgently. “They are handling around 120 families, representing 300 patients, and more calls are being registered daily. Yesterday the ladies at the various depots send out some 550 quarts of liquid nourishment beside quantities of other stuff.”

In Earlscourt, the main depot was opened at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, but the organization also joined forces with Earlscourt Methodist Church on Ascot Avenue to create a second Earlscourt centre. Many other women’s organizations were also offering services and assistance to the sick, from the Catholic Women’s League to the Liberal Woman’s Association. The Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Earlscourt GWVA stepped up to do its bit.

Mrs. H. J. MacDonald had taken over the presidency of the organization from Mrs. Cohen in 1919, and was assisted by Secretary Mrs. H. Smith in the fight against the flu in early 1920. On February 26, the Toronto Daily Star wrote, “The Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Earlscourt branch GWVA have performed excellent service in fighting the “flu” epidemic throughout the district. The president, Mrs. H.J. MacDonald, and Mrs. H. Smith have given particular attention to this work and every veteran’s case throughout the district has received some attention. The auxiliary have put up custards, jellies, soups and broths for the various flu patients, a number of pneumonia jackets have also been distributed. Although they were unable to supply nurses, many of the members of the auxiliary took the places of nurses. Mrs. MacDonald told The Star today that the epidemic seemed to be abating. “For the first time in weeks,” said she, “we have had no requests for assistance.”

Like so many of the women who volunteered, I have not been able to positively identify who Mrs. H. Smith was. It is a shame, because her work was so appreciated by the Auxiliary that she was recognized with a special gift of a dozen silver spoons at the group’s February meeting (Daily Star, February 27, 1920). However, because Mrs. H.J. MacDonald hosted a meeting at her home and the Daily Star advertised her address, I was able to learn something more about her.

First of all, her name was Florence and she was born Harriet Florence Chubbuck at 88 Kent Street, Ottawa, on October 10, 1885, according to a Statement of Birth she filed in Ontario in 1952. When Florence MacDonald was fighting the flu epidemic in Earlscourt she would have been 34 years old. She grew up in Ottawa, where her father Charles Edmond Dixon Chubbuck was a successful civil servant in the Railways and Canals Department. Florence’s mother, Harriet Burrows Chubbuck, had died very soon after her baby daughter was born. The Chubbucks had maritime roots and were a close-knit family. It seems that Florence had a strong relationship with her aunt, Amelie J. Chubbuck. Amelie Chubbuck later lived with the MacDonalds in Toronto, until her death on July 4, 1914.

Known as Flossie as a child according to Census records, Florence Chubbuck had a privileged upbringing. While the Chubbucks were from a Nova Scotia Methodist family of United Empire Loyalists, several family members had relocated to Ontario and were prominent in the Ottawa bureaucracy. Florence was sent to the Methodist Mount Allison Ladies’ College in Sackville, New Brunswick, where, according to the Mount Allison archives, she graduated in 1907. Mount Allison was the first institution in the British Empire to grant a Bachelors degree to a woman, when Grace Annie Lockhart earned a B.Sc in 1875. John G. Reid, in his essay “The Education of Women at Mount Allison, 1854 – 1914,” (Acadiensis, Vol. 12, No. 2, SPRING 1983, pp. 3-33) points out that the institution was founded on principles of academic rigour and intellectual development, contrary to what its founder Mary Electa Adams called “ordinary modes of female education.”

At the time Florence Chubbuck attended, the College was led by Mary Mellish Archibald and Vice-Principal Dr. Emma Baker. Dr. Baker had been, in 1902, one of the first two women to successfully defend a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Toronto. When she took on her leadership role at Mount Allison, Reid notes, Dr. Baker was one of only two faculty in the entire university to hold a doctorate. The other PhD at Mount Allison was also on the faculty of the Ladies’ College.

After graduation, Florence Chubbuck returned home to Ottawa and appeared in the local newspapers as a charming debutante, primarily as the wearer of pretty dresses at nice parties. The Ottawa Citizen reporter on December 7, 1907 wrote in the “Dresses in the Drawing Room” column that she “looked sweet,” at a state function attended by Lady Laurier, among others.

Just a few days later, on Thursday, December 12, 1907, a very brief announcement appeared in the Ottawa Citizen: “Mr. and Mrs. C.E.D. Chubbuck announce the engagement of their daughter Miss Florence Chubbuck to Mr. Hugh J. MacDonald of Toronto.” I would have expected a little bit more fanfare for an engaged debutante, but there was none that I could find. I wonder if her parents were against the match.

For one thing, Florence’s suitor was a Roman Catholic, from one of Prince Edward Island’s leading Roman Catholic families. Son of an educator and farmer, Hugh John MacDonald had attended the Catholic St. Dunstan’s University (now part of U.P.E.I. in Charlottetown) and had become a teacher before deciding to pursue his education at the University of Ottawa, which was founded by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. A 1923 biography of MacDonald published in volume 3 of The Municipality of Toronto : A History by Jesse Edgar Middleton (Dominion Publishing Company, pp. 174-175), says Hugh earned two degrees there, in 1903 and 1904. According to his biography he then briefly became an English and Economics professor at the university before leaving in 1905 to pursue law studies at Osgoode Hall in Toronto.

If her parents were disapproving (Hugh’s parents had both passed away by this time), Florence Chubbuck was not going to be swayed. She was clearly a person who knew her own mind. One example of this is preserved in a news story published on Tuesday, June 23, 1908. This time she was front-page news in The Ottawa Journal.

“Brave Young Lady Recited During a Fire Panic at Carp and Averted Tragedy,” read the headline. Florence had been on stage as a featured “artiste” during a church event when an oil lamp crashed to the floor, spreading lamp oil and flames everywhere. Assessing that the fire situation was under control, she continued her performance in a successful effort to keep the audience from panicking. The Journal and the Ottawa Citizen hailed her as a hero — the latter newspaper noting that she had done something similarly brave while at Mount Allison.

Chubbuck Fire
Florence Chubbuck was such a strong and composed speaker, she was able to deliver a recitation in the midst of a spreading fire and avert a panic.

In 1908 Hugh John MacDonald completed his legal studies and started practicing law in Toronto. After a long engagement, Florence Chubbuck and Hugh John MacDonald were married in Ottawa on September 14, 1909 by Methodist minister Rev. James Henderson. Florence’s younger half-sister Madge and Hugh’s roommate, named Hugh C. Macdonald (and also a barrister), were the witnesses. He was 28 and she was 23, and they were ready to start their life together in Toronto.

Ten years later, when Florence MacDonald started volunteering for the Earlscourt Great War Veteran’s Association, the couple had lived a remarkable unsettled life. While Hugh John MacDonald maintained a fairly consistent downtown address for his law office, the couple moved house constantly. Hugh John’s residence changed almost every year in the city directory listings. For the later years of the First World War, Hugh John MacDonald was listed living in residential hotels downtown, including the St. Regis on Sherbourne where not-yet-famous Amelia Earhart was also living while she volunteered as a wartime nurse. It’s impossible to know why the MacDonald’s moved so often, but it was unusual behaviour (by contrast, Hugh John’s old roommate and best man Hugh C. MacDonald didn’t move at all in this time period). The variety of homes listed, from boarding houses to more elegant addresses like Austin Terrace near Casa Loma, do suggest a certain amount of financial volatility.

The couple had lived at 42 Ascot Avenue with Florence’s aunt Amelie Chubbuck at the start of the war, and they returned to Earlscourt in 1919, renting a flat behind Garnet Hardy’s grocery store which was at 1151 St. Clair Avenue West, at the corner of Westmount. The MacDonalds’ address was 142 Westmount Avenue. The couple had one living child at this time, a pre-schooler named Hugh Jr., who had been born in May 1916. They had lost at least one child in infancy, a son who was named Ronald, in memory of Hugh John MacDonald’s father.

142 Westmount 1924 s0372_ss0001_it0609
This is a 1924 photo of the building where the MacDonalds lived in 1919/1920. The entrance to 142 Westmount Avenue would have been just outside of the frame on the left. By 1924, Garnet Hardy’s grocery store on St. Clair Avenue West had been replaced by this real estate office. Today, 142 Westmount Avenue is the entrance to the Lokaal co-working space and Dubbeldam Architects. (Photo courtesy City of Toronto Archives).

With Florence MacDonald leading the group in the winter of 1919 and 1920, 142 Westmount became an occasional second meeting place for the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the GWVA. For one thing, it was conveniently close to Belmont Hall, as well as to the local churches. It was a very busy season. In addition to regular dances and card parties to raise funds, the team took on several additional projects. For one, there was the important “Christmas Tree,” an event held in the January Christmas season to entertain and give cheer and gifts to the children of local veterans. The Auxiliary met at 142 Westmount on January 9, 1920, to make arrangements for the Christmas dinner for all local soldiers’ children under the age of 12, to be held at Belmont Hall on January 20.

No sooner had their Christmas activities been completed, then the deadly strain of the flu broke out again and consumed much of the group’s attention and resources throughout February. However, work to help those suffering with the flu did not stop other major events organized by Florence MacDonald, her new Vice-President Mrs. Scrivens (despite her appearing in the newspaper as Mrs. J. Scrivens, I believe this was Emily Scrivens, of 145 Day Avenue, who was married to war veteran Albert Scrivens), and their team of volunteers.

The February 6, 1920 Daily Star carried a compliment made to Florence MacDonald by the auxiliary members regarding a large “Memorial Matinee” entertainment that was planned for injured and convalescing veterans, organized at the Allen Theatre. Many of those attending were transported from the Christie Hospital. The event was ambitious and featured opening remarks from the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. It was a big success.

Later that month, on February 24, 1920, the Daily Star reported that the Earlscourt GWVA was hosting a 6 p.m. dinner that night for members of all the Toronto GWVA Auxiliaries. This initial report said the dinner would be at Belmont Hall, but a subsequent article said it was held at Earlscourt Central Methodist Church and was hosted by both Mr. and Mrs. Hugh J. MacDonald. Mrs. Campbell McIvor — a leader in the Canadian suffrage movement fighting for votes for women — was the dinner speaker, on the topic of the importance of social work.

Mrs. MacDonald photo
This 1920 glimpse of Florence MacDonald accompanied an article in the Daily Star about the Memorial Matinee she and her GWVA Auxiliary group planned for injured veterans in early February 1920.

Just reading what the volunteers accomplished in this time is exhausting, and the pace does seem to have slowed a bit in March (for one thing, Florence MacDonald was reported by the Star as being sick in bed with a bad cold that month). But the Auxiliary continued to hold events, and also do some planning. On April 24, 1920, the Daily Star noted that, “Mrs. H.J. MacDonald, president of the Ladies’ Auxiliary Earlscourt GWVA, announces that the junior branch of the auxiliary has been organized with a nucleus of close to 100 children, all of them having relatives who served overseas.” Florence MacDonald’s final success was to get approval from the Police Commission on behalf of the Great War Veterans’ Association Auxiliaries to hold a city-wide June 10 Tag Day fundraiser.

By early July 1920, Florence MacDonald’s presidency came to an end. She formally resigned, along with the secretary (Emily Scrivens had apparently already stepped aside and a Mrs. McCann had taken over) at a meeting held July 3, 1920. Their replacements were not immediately named, but work certainly continued with a new crew of hard-working women leaders.

When she resigned, Florence MacDonald would have been in the early stages of her pregnancy with her son Neil Inglis MacDonald, who was born the following March, according to the couple’s 1923 biography. It also seems that the MacDonalds were on the move again. The Might’s Directory for 1921 lists a new person resident at 142 Westmount and no home address is given for Hugh J. MacDonald, although his downtown law office is still in place. The MacDonalds continued to change homes regularly in the years that followed, and I also haven’t located them in the 1921 Census of Canada, which again seems unusual compared to their peers.

Hugh John MacDonald continued to practice law until retiring in the mid-1930s. Four sons were listed in Hugh John MacDonald’s January 18, 1967 Globe and Mail obituary: Hugh J., Scott N. (I wonder if this was Neil Inglis, mentioned above), Kenneth C., and Vincent W. MacDonald. Florence survived her husband and lived ten more years, dying at the age of 99. I didn’t find an obituary for Florence MacDonald, but she is buried with her husband in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

It is another curious thing to me that several of the statements in Hugh John MacDonald’s obituary do not necessarily match with other facts I have found about his life. One that does check out — although the case seems to be confused with another similar trial — is his successful defence of a group of Communists who were on trial in the 1930s for demonstrating in support of their political beliefs. MacDonald was a lifelong Conservative and was proud of his defence of civil liberties in this case. One thing the MacDonalds sure seem to have had in common was their willingness to take on a tough challenge and face it bravely, head-on.

Influenza 1918

If you are ill
Toronto volunteers offered help to the sick and dying during successive waves of the flu. Local Earlscourt minister Rev. Peter Bryce was president of the Neighbourhood Worker’s Association. Toronto Daily Star ad, October 23, 1918.

The deadly influenza epidemic of 1918 to 1920 first hit Toronto in late September 1918. At first, the illness did not seem that bad, despite its reputation, and the city carried on as usual. Certainly, threat of the flu did not interrupt the first Earlscourt Fall Fair, which opened in Royce Park on October 2, 1918, with a rousing speech from the Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable George S. Henry.

The Toronto Daily Star reported on the festivities day by day: On October 3, Citizen’s Day, visitors to the fair enjoyed a trench battle re-enactment staged by returned soldiers and there was dancing “on the turf” into the night. Prizes were handed out for poultry, homing pigeons, garden produce and the best pickles and preserves. The final day, October 4, was Children’s Day, with a baby contest and fun and games for the local children. All agreed it was an enjoyable, and inspirational, escape from the troubles of wartime.

Having recently moved to a newly built house at 177 McRoberts Avenue, it seems likely that members of the Luchford family, along with all their neighbours, would have wanted to attend the fair that was taking place right at the bottom of their street.

Stephen and Julia Luchford had come to Canada in 1907 from London, England with their 19 year-old daughter Julia Annie and 2 year-old daughter Olive Irene. On the ship manifest for the Cunard liner Etruria, Stephen’s occupation was listed as mariner (according to Wikipedia, you can see 1904 footage of the ship in the opening sequence of the Edison film, The European Rest Cure).

Once in Toronto, Stephen Luchford worked more land-based jobs, appearing in the City Directory first as a labourer and then as a motorman, an occupation usually associated with driving the city’s streetcars. In 1918, Julia Annie Luchford, was living with her parents on McRoberts Avenue and working at Bell Telephone’s head office as an assistant. Her brothers Stephen Jr. and William had also emigrated to Canada in 1908 and were also settled into work. Irene Olive, the baby of the family, was still at school, most likely the nearby Hughes School.

According to the website Canada’s History, the head of Bell Telephone was concerned about the flu early on. “A September 29, 1918, memo to employees from Bell Telephone Company president L.B. McFarlane recommended covering the mouth when sneezing or coughing, gargling with salt water, and avoiding crowds. ‘It is a public duty, as well as a personal advantage, that our employees should avoid the epidemic by every possible means,’ he concluded.”

Julia Annie Luchford may have heeded her boss’s warning and gargled and stayed away from crowds. Others swore by smoking tobacco or shots of whisky, which was only legally procured during prohibition from a government store with a doctor’s prescription. Precautions were not likely to help, though. The virus was aggressive and relentless. Julia Annie came down with the flu around October 7 as did many other Bell employees. The company was so short staffed, they placed a newspaper ad asking people to avoid any non-essential telephone calls. Other workplaces were similarly disrupted, and Toronto city health officials took steps to shut down schools, churches, theatres and other gathering places.

1918 Bell Ad
This ad also appeared in the Toronto Daily Star on October 23, 1918, as the October wave of the illness was cresting.

The pandemic influenza was fast-acting. Sufferers had sudden severe headache and backache, fever, and other flu symptoms. Infections like pneumonia developed rapidly especially in healthy patients, and those with the flu most often died of suffocation or heart failure. On October 13, Julia Annie was killed by pneumonia, and her bereaved family buried her in Prospect Cemetery on October 16. She was one of the earliest Earlscourt victims of the pandemic, and the only person on McRoberts I have found so far to have died during the epidemic. She was, however, one of an estimated 1,600 people have died of the flu in Toronto, which had a population then of just under 500,000.

The cause of the flu was not understood in 1918, and there were no effective vaccines or treatments. A call went out to the public for volunteer nurses, for medical supplies, and for people to prepare and distribute special foods for the sick like broth, custards and jellies. The city’s welfare organizations were already well organized for war work and they quickly switched gears to gather supplies, care for the sick and make protective masks and warming pneumonia jackets for flu victims instead of making items for the soldiers overseas.

In Earlscourt, where grief and mourning were everywhere, it is hard to imagine the impact of even more suffering. According to this 2009 Toronto Star article, Prospect Cemetery was among the burial grounds holding burials seven days a week. It could not keep up. The cemetery’s website tells how the victims’ coffins lined the roads of the cemetery at one time .

The few local clergy and doctors worked long hours throughout the district. Perhaps the most tireless was Rev. Peter Bryce of Earlscourt Methodist Church. The Scottish minister had first come to Ontario from Newfoundland. Finding severe poverty among his flock in his early mission work in Earlscourt, he became a powerhouse leader of Toronto social welfare activities and advocacy. The Neighbourhood Workers Association was among the groups that Rev. Bryce helped found and it took the lead in influenza relief activities locally and across the city while he was serving as president.

The women of the neighbourhood recognized that comfort, nourishment and warmth were among the only defences they could offer to both the healthy and the sick. Among other activities, the Earlscourt Women Workers ran a daily soup kitchen from the church for the duration of the epidemic. The other rapidly mobilized contributor was the Women’s Auxiliary of the Great War Veteran’s Association (GWVA), which joined influenza relief efforts as part of its core mission to help the families of both returned veterans and those with soldiers overseas. Heating coal and other aids were distributed to households around the neighbourhood and volunteers provided nursing care, risking their own health.

october flu deaths
Statistics in the Toronto Daily Star, published on October 23, 1918, show the crest of the flu in the first wave to hit Toronto. On the day Julia Luchford succumbed to the illness, October 13, she was one of 40 casualties. Just a few days later, the number had doubled.

A character sketch submitted to the Daily Star and published on October 28, 1918 with the byline Margaret Lillian, describes local efforts in what I suppose is meant to be an Earlscourt dialect. Part of the first person narrative describes a trip on the streetcar: “The man in the end seat was findin’ fault with the whole system an not doin’ a thing to help out, I ses to Paw – an this is no time fer fault findin’ an grouchin’ I ses, an I wisht thet I could hev taken the whole caboodle of them with me where I was goin’, I ses to Paw – to see the City nurses doin’ the very best and wimmen thet hed never nursed before startin’ out with a badge on her arm – an other workers openin’ up places, an makin’ soups and jellies an helpin’ out with neumonia jackets an beddin’ to keep things goin’ – an the Boy Scouts “doin their bit” along with the rest of them.

“Yes Maw, ses Paw to me, the war an this sickness hes helped to bring all them together thet are willin’ an anxious to do something fer somebody.

“’The world will never be the same again but sympathy an love works wonders,’ I ses, ‘an men an wimmin everwhere are jest waitin’ fer a chance to help straighten out the tangle I ses, fer the dark clouds are beginnin’ to break an brighter and brighter will be the shinin’ till the whole world will see ‘the Sun of Righteousness arisin’ with healin’ in His wings.’”

By early November, 1918, the epidemic had slowed down a bit, and people started getting back to a more regular routine. The churches filled up again, the charity drives turned their attention to Christmas packages. Everyone had a bit of break. For the Luchfords, and many others, it would have been a bleak Christmas. The family left McRoberts by 1919, perhaps saddened by memories of Julia, but perhaps also to be closer to Oakwood Collegiate for Irene Olive Luchford’s studies. She went on to study art at Central Technical School, which was well known for its talented faculty, and when she married painter George Henry Griffin in 1929, her occupation was also given as artist. Somehow I feel that she lived her life in a way that tried to help “straighten out the tangle.”

Remembrance Day on McRoberts

Visiting the Veterans’ Plot in Prospect Cemetery this fall, I stopped and reflected on how many McRoberts Avenue residents served in the military during the First and Second World Wars.

This list is from the people I have researched so far. I will add to it over time. And today, at the annual dawn Remembrance Service at the cemetery where some of them are buried, I will pause to remember them.

img_0850
The Cross of Sacrifice at Prospect Cemetery, Toronto. August 2019.

World War I

A.J. Barclay, Sergeant, Second Contingent Batallion

Charles Palmer Barclay, Corporal, 3rd Division A.M.C.

Norman Eddy Barclay, 92nd Highlanders

Thomas Henry Barclay, Sergeant-Major, 2nd Canadian Pioneer Battalion

Ernest Francis Jenkins, 92nd Highlanders & Royal Flying Corps

John Sidney Martin, signaller, 3rd Batallion and Prisoner of War

Horace Raymond Martin, 124th Battalion & Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry

Richard Maxted, driver, 2nd Division Supply Column

John Victor McCreight, 198th Battalion

Walter Prior, baker, Number 2 Service Corps

Frederick Sanders, Canadian Expeditionary Force

Benjamin Sear, Canadian Expeditionary Force

World War II

Arnold Burgham

Arthur Burgham

Jack McCreight, Royal Canadian Air Force

Victor McCreight, Royal Canadian Air Force

110, 413 & 513 McRoberts Avenue

Benjamin Henry Sear was overseas serving in the First World War when Kate Sear and their two boys moved to McRoberts Avenue. When he arrived home from war, wounded, the family tried to get back to normal, but Benjamin was very ill, and his time on McRoberts was painfully short.

Army life was very hard on Private Benjamin Sears. He first joined the British Army in 1884 when was 16, following his older brother Frederick into the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment. Frederick, who seems to have been an excellent administrator, was already a Sergeant and he vouched for Benjamin who signed on for “long service” – a term of 12 years.  Frederick Sear’s first rank was “Boy”, which was truly what he was – he stood just under 4-foot 11-inches tall when he attested. Even though (or perhaps, because) he had already worked for three years as a bricklayer’s assistant, he weighed just 74 pounds. Within a year in the infantry, he became a Private, his first and last promotion.

Ben Sear July 6 1918 Toronto Star
The Sear brothers, photographed in World War I and published in the Daily Star, July 6, 1918. Both brothers served with the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment of the British Army. In the First World War, Private Benjamin Sear, left, went to the front in France. Captain Frederick Sear, right, became Quartermaster for the Canadian Veterinary Corps.

Despite his slight physique, the medical notes in the UK, Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner Soldier Service Records show that Benjamin was a healthy young man until the 1st Battalion was sent to India in 1889 to reinforce the demands of British Imperialism. There he suffered regular illnesses: “Ague, climate” noted the military doctor over and over again, “recommend Quinine.” He got measles, and dysentery.

Possibly worst of all, Benjamin got syphilis and gonorrhea, which were both extremely common in the British forces and barely treatable in the days before antibiotics. According to the article “Sexually transmitted diseases and the Raj” by J. Basu Roy published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections (1 February 1998, http://sti.bmj.com), over half of all British service men in India were being treated for STIs by 1895, a rate far higher than that found among local soldiers in India.

In 1895, the 1st Battalion was sent to the northwest border territory of India as part of the force to break the siege of the Chitral Fort. It was April, and still winter in the region with deep snow, but the British Army succeeded in crossing the mountain pass, defeating the local forces and reclaiming British dominance in the area. Benjamin Sear apparently participated in the fighting – but soon after the Relief of Chitral he was hospitalized again in Chitral and finally discharged as medically unfit, diagnosed with infectious connective tissue disease. He was just short of his promised 12 years of service.

Returned to Britain, Benjamin seemed to regain his health. Living in London, he became strong enough to resume work as a labourer and, in 1901, to marry Kate Sear, daughter of a Battersea boat builder. She was 22 and had probably never known her sweetheart as a soldier. He was 33, also living in Battersea. They married on April 21, 1901 at St. Mary le Park Anglican church. His sister Laura and Kate’s father, Benjamin Taylor, were the witnesses.

Benjamin and Kate Sear were people who endured ongoing hardship, but they also seem to me like people who took action when things were tough. When their eldest son Benjamin Frederick Sear was born on January 27, 1905, his family lived at 55 Camera Square in Chelsea, according to the baptismal records of St. Luke Parish, Chelsea, London. Local history there records this area as a dreadful slum and in 1907 the Sears  decided to seek out something different for their family. Like other poor Londoners, they made a plan to emigrate, hopeful that they could build a new and better life in Canada.

The family of three arrived in St. John aboard the steamship Lake Erie. According to the Passenger List, they had $15 and were headed for Toronto. Benjamin was almost 40 and Kate almost 30, their baby just two years old. Benjamin found work as a labourer and they moved into a house at 2 Creemore Avenue in the Regent Park area, where there were only two houses listed in the 1908 Might’s Directory. After a few years, the family moved to 76 De Grassi Street, where Albert Harry Sear was born on November 12, 1912.

When war was declared in 1914, it seems like Benjamin Sear could have avoided further military service. But in 1915, he made himself a bit younger on his attestation papers, did not mention his medical discharge from the British Army, and was judged fit to serve in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. An experienced soldier, he soon found himself on the front lines in France. Participating in the Fighting for Mouquet Farm during the Battle of the Somme, he was wounded in the face by a shell on September 16, 1916.

Mrs Sear July 6 1918 Toronto Star
Kate Sear, with sons Benjamin and Albert, pictured in the July 6, 1918 edition of the Toronto Daily Star.

Recovering from the loss of his eye in England, Private Sear was put on light duty. But by December 1917, he was quite sick. The army decided to send him home and he was discharged without a pension as both medically unfit and overage.

Privates in the Army received low wages and perhaps to make ends meet, Kate had moved her boys from their home at 50 Clinton in Deer Park, to 110 McRoberts Avenue, probably renting rooms from the Huggett family who lived there for many years. When Benjamin arrived back in Canada, partially blinded and still ill, he was fortunate enough to get a job inspecting shells at Canada Foundry. The couple moved north on the street, going up to Fairbank where they took a small wood-frame house at 413 McRoberts Avenue.

However, by the summer of 1918, Benjamin was even more seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. Everything they had worked for was now at risk, but Kate Sear was clearly a resourceful person. As her husband worsened in hospital, without publicly funded medicine to help him and no recognition from the military, Kate got a job at a munitions factory to keep body and soul together. Then she started a campaign of her own for what she knew was fair and right.

She appealed to the newly formed Great War Veterans Association (GWVA) for assistance and found sympathy and, even better, concrete help from the Earlscourt GWVA and community leader Charles T. Lacey. The Association provided some immediate cash relief for the family and Lacey successfully advocated for Benjamin Sear to be transferred to the care of the provincial Invalided Soldiers’ Commission, where he could be treated at the Base Hospital while receiving pay.

Benjamin Sear’s kidneys were failing, and the Toronto Daily Star also took up the cause, with headlines reporting on his condition, his family’s plight and any sign of a shift in bureaucratic policy. Everyone involved could see that a solider who had been good enough to fight and suffer wounds at the front was good enough to received a pension. But the army and the government were not ready to help.

It was a problem the GWVA was fighting on a national scale. Writing on behalf of the organization in the May 1, 1919 issue of Maclean’s Magazine, journalist and war veteran George Pearson commented, “We do not believe a man should draw a pension merely because he was overseas. That is graft.

“But, however much we may deprecate any raid on the public treasury for ourselves, even those of us who want nothing from the Canadian Government or people for ourselves, are insistent that men who have been badly disabled and dependants who really need assistance, should receive something that is less a pension than a salary. The blind for instance. Or consider the case of the men made insane by war. Are they to be exposed to the brutalities of the average civilian or military institution? Or the soldier’s widow struggling to bring up her little brood? Is the pittance of a pension that would force her to work and keep her children from school justice to her dead soldier? Nothing less than an income sufficient for her to remain at home and send her children to school would be plain elemental justice in such a case.”

There apparently was no “elemental justice” for Kate Sear. At the beginning of August, Benjamin Sear died in hospital, which also ended his invalid soldier pay. The Toronto Star reported on his funeral on August 10, 1918. A long procession of veterans, friends and family went to his grave site in Prospect Cemetery, where the man who had given so much of his life to military service was laid to rest at 3 p.m., with full military honours.

“The long funeral procession, including a large representation from the Earlscourt Great War Veterans, a unit from the 2nd Battalion Canadian Garrison Regiment, as well as the firing party of thirteen and six pall-bearers from the same unit, led by an officer representing headquarters, wound through Earlscourt to the strains of the funeral march, rendered by the Royal Air Forces band, to Prospect Cemetery, where the Last Post was sounded and the volleys over the grave announced the entrance of another “happy warrior” into the “Homeland.””

When their father was buried in 1918, Benjamin Sear Jr. was 13 and Albert Sear was only 5. Kate moved her boys again, to 513 McRoberts Avenue. The 1921 Census lists them renting four rooms in a house that was shared with a couple named William and Sarah Stevenson. Sixteen-year-old Benjamin’s $500 per year income was supporting the family. He did not – as the Maclean’s writer thought was only right – have the opportunity to complete more schooling than his father had. However, he did learn a skilled trade as a steam-pipe fitter, and later Albert followed him into plumbing work. By the late 1920s, the family was able to move to a house of their own at 103 Blackthorn Avenue. It was surely a small victory for them. They had not been overseas, but they were also the survivors of war.

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The Summer of Peace

This is not a story about McRoberts Avenue directly, and none of the key players in it are McRoberts residents, but exactly 100 years ago, the entire neighbourhood was completely swept up in preparing for and participating in local Peace Year celebrations. These peaked on August 27, 1919 with the Prince of Wales’ visit to Earlscourt.

The First World War ceased on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, but wartime was not yet over. Reconstruction was needed on an international scale, but also in every individual home and life. Recognizing the need to mark the end of four cataclysmic years of war, 1919 was declared the Year of Peace.

Here in Earlscourt, where more people had enlisted per capita than in any other area in Canada, 1919 was a year of pride as well as of peace. Just over a decade earlier, the whole area had been the focus of urgent social work to save the starving and frozen working class families who had optimistically built starter shacks on the muddy clay, only to be thrown out of work by economic conditions. Now many sturdy homes and businesses stood throughout the area, and the residents were well-organized with strong community leaders. They had all sacrificed and worked hard and had suffered great loss, yet still they had survived.

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Edward, Prince of Wales waving to crowds in High Park from Sir John Eaton’s yellow Rolls Royce. The Prince was on his way to Earlscourt on August 27, 1919 when this photograph was taken. Photo John Boyd. Library and Archives Canada, RD-000215

When news came that young Edward, Prince of Wales would be touring across Canada to promote the sale of Victory Bonds, there was a real hope that his visit to Toronto would include a stop in Earlscourt. A letter sent to the local British Imperial Association from Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor suggested as much, and was reported by the Globe on July 15, 1919. That week, the neighbourhood was preparing for the upcoming Peace Day holiday to mark the signing of the Treaty.

A torch-light procession was planned along St. Clair from Dufferin to Royce Park (now Earlscourt Park), where there would be a bonfire and band music. The parkland was still privately owned, but for years it had been expected to become a public park and the Royce family did not seem to mind sharing the land for community events while the sale arrangements were negotiated with the city. That night, an effigy of German Kaiser Wilhelm was burned on the Peace Day bonfire. (The Kaiser was still a target of the neighbourhood’s wrath: For Armistice celebrations in November 1918, some Earlscourt residents had erected a wooden scaffold in an empty lot on St. Clair Avenue West and hanged the Kaiser in effigy. Globe, Nov. 12, 1918).

A week after Peace Day, 8,000 citizens gathered in Prospect Cemetery for a gentler memorial of hymns and prayers in a Sunday remembrance service for the war dead. “At the conclusion of the service loving hands gathered the huge pile of wreaths and flowers from the platform and laid them tenderly on the graves of the men who died in service,” reported the Globe on July 28.

Earlscourt was fairly confident that Prince Edward would visit. He was known to have a real affinity for the Forces and he had famously pushed his royal parents for permission to participate in the war. While he was kept in fairly safe circumstances for the duration, returned soldiers liked to tell stories of chance meetings in France with the “soldier prince,” who apparently enjoyed giving his minders the slip and getting out among the enlisted men. The Prince of Wales did know something of what the men in the trenches had endured and they felt sure he would come to a district that had given so much. An invitation was sent by the British Imperial Association and everyone waited for the news.

When a reply came on August 11, it was disappointing. The August 12 Star reported that R.M. Russell of the British Imperial Association had read the terse official letter from the Governor General’s secretary at a meeting the night before: “I beg to inform you that I regret that it will not be possible to make any additions, at this late date, to his Royal Highness’s program, which is a heavy one.”

Mr. Russell told the meeting he believed this change in the prince’s plans was due to a “fictitious story,” a “slur on the whole district” that the community was still in the pioneer stage and populated by shacks, and therefore not nice enough for the Prince. The Star answered with an editorial on August 14: “A slur! Why Earlscourt has every reason to be proud of its pioneer origin and the shack that was once its distinguishing characteristic. Ask a Canadian farmer if he is ashamed of the fact that his grandfather was a pioneer and lived in a log hut! Of course the shack has now disappeared as the log hut did, but both are enshrined in the hearts of the men of to-day as symbols of hard work and homely heroism.”

With plans for the visit already under way, Earlscourt’s leaders were not ready to give up their campaign to get the Prince. There was some movement by August 14. The Star reported that Mayor Tommy Church had announced the Prince of Wales would at least drive through Earlscourt in connection with his morning visit on August 26 to wounded veterans at the Christie Street Hospital. “An effort was made to have this plan changed,” the mayor said, “so that the district might be visited in the evening when the people are at home, but this cannot be worked out.”

Earlscourt veterans took consolation in the fact that the Prince would at least drive by, and that they would be able to see the Prince at Veterans’ Day at the Canadian National Exhibition, where every veteran would receive a pair of tickets to take a “lady friend” to the Exhibition grounds on August 27. There, Prince Edward would review the grandstand, decorate veterans, and recognize the mothers and widows of fallen soldiers.

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Veterans ready for the Prince’s visit in Toronto. Library and Archives Canada photograph, item number 3400867.

But behind the scenes, work was still ongoing to get the Prince of Wales to Earlscourt for more than a drive-by. Expectations for his visit were modest. It was only hoped that he would come one evening when people could see him, to plant a tree at the Soldiers’ Plot in Prospect Cemetery (the cemetery’s historical site can be viewed here). The Prince’s visit, it was hoped, would comfort the families who had lost loved ones overseas as well as cheer the returned veterans. In anticipation of his visit, the Earlscourt branch of the Great War Veterans’ Association made Prince Edward an honorary member.

The Earlscourt decoration committee of the Great War Veterans’ Association and the British Imperial Association also got to work. On August 14, with less than two weeks to go before the Prince’s arrival, The Globe reported that Toronto’s thrifty Board of Control had decided in a majority vote that the city would not spend a cent on decorations. It was felt that the money was needed elsewhere, and surely Toronto’s citizens would provide ample bunting and flags to greet the Prince. Mayor Tommy Church was the only one on the Board who was disappointed by the decision. “You should have seen New York,” he reportedly grumbled, “they knew how to decorate.”

In loyal Earlscourt, the people took up the challenge to provide the decorations, by fundraising and working day and night to festoon St. Clair West and their homes in flags. Gershon “George” Wills, a British-born carpenter who lived at 34 Harvie, led a team of volunteers in the construction of a beautiful arch of evergreen boughs and flags that spanned the street at St. Clair and Dufferin. The Globe noted that it was the only arch erected in the city and praised the artistry that had gone into it.

Murray-Kay Ad August 19, 1919
The Murray-Kay Company Ltd. store on King Street advertised decorations for sale in its August 19 ad in the Toronto Star.

On August 22, the Star front page carried the headline: “New Features In Visit of Prince.” With just days to go until his arrival in the city, it had been settled that the Prince would definitely visit both Earlscourt and Riverdale and it would be on Wednesday evening, his final night in the city, after Veterans’ Day ceremonies at the exhibition. Locally, Alexander MacGregor, a prominent lawyer who was President of the Earlscourt Fall Fair, along with an injured veteran and father of seven named Joe Wines who lived at 195A Earlscourt Avenue, were given credit for getting Earlscourt back on the itinerary. How they achieved this was not reported in the papers, but Joe Wines was quoted by the Star as keeping the faith: “he knew General Gunn wouldn’t turn down a district like Earlscourt.” (Daily Star, August 14, 1919)

With the Prince secured, Earlscourt went all out to prepare and by Tuesday, August 26 the finishing touches were put on the district. On Wednesday evening, flags and banners were in place and every house was decorated along the Prince’s route. The entire population of the surrounding neighbourhoods were said to be in attendance, waiting for the first glimpse of Sir John Eaton’s Rolls Royce, “The Yellow Bird,” which he and Lady Eaton had loaned to the Royal entourage for the occasion. After his long day at the Exhibition, the Prince changed into a civilian grey checked suit and soft felt hat. Out of uniform for the first time during his Toronto visit, the Prince set out to meet the people.

“I want to meet the people who did the dirty work in the war,” the Globe reported the Prince saying that day, “I want to shake hands with the people in rags and tatters and the brave men and women whose self-sacrifice saved the British Empire. Let them crowd in. Tell the police not to keep them back. I want to shake hands with them all.” (Globe, August 28, 1919).

Thousands of Torontonians hoped to do just that and turned out that evening along the route out of the Exhibition, through High Park and eventually up Lansdowne to Prospect Cemetery. The dignitaries and residents waiting in the cemetery that evening were increasingly anxious as the clock ticked later and later under threatening clouds and gusty winds. Finally, at 6:25 p.m., almost an hour later than planned, the Prince arrived at the Soldiers’ Plot. An honour guard of veterans lined the path and a massed choir of school children accompanied by the Salvation Army band greeted the Prince with the national anthem, “God Save the King.” The sun even made a brief appearance from behind a cloud. It was, however, outshone by the Prince.

“With a smile – and such a smile – beaming on everyone he strode across the lawn where he was met midway by Major G.P. Richardson, president of the Earlscourt G.W.V.A., and welcomed to Earlscourt.” Private A. Stackable, a double amputee, then presented the Prince with membership button No. 114,621 along with a morocco-bound copy of the constitution for the local branch of the Veterans’ association. The Prince “gave the soldier a hearty hand-shake of appreciation,” and signed the membership roll “like any other veteran.” He then completed the planting of a silver maple, which still stands in the cemetery a century later, and greeted as many people as he could before his aides pulled him away to continue on his neighbourhood tour. It was a day of rather unprecedented royal behaviour and the Prince broke protocol once more.

The Star reported: “’But really, I must speak to these people,’ expostulated the Prince. And he did. Mounting a little platform on which had rested the silver spade, the Prince, in ringing, sympathetic tones, made a speech which won him the heart of Earlscourt for all time. ‘I want to thank all of you for your very kind welcome which has touched me very much. I know the splendid part Earlscourt district has played in the war and of your many sacrifices. It has afforded me much pleasure to plant this tree and thus honour the memory of the valiant veterans who have departed. I am very pleased also at being made a member of the Great War Veterans’ Association. I should like to have shaken hands with you all, but that is quite impossible. I wish you all the best of luck. Again I thank you, and good-bye.’”

The Prince’s car then departed, and followed a route along Nairn, then Morrison, down Dufferin and east on St. Clair. “With Union Jacks and bunting everywhere with cheers hearty and long from every throat from block after block – waving handkerchiefs, hats in air, whistles, horns, and bugles – Earlscourt went into a delirium of joyful welcome and a fond farewell.

“The Prince seemed to catch the spirit and atmosphere that was round about him, and as the large yellow car felt its way through the district he jumped up and sat on the back of the seat in the car, where, in response to the long lane of cheering people he waved his grey fedora hat in one hand and a tiny Union Jack in the other.” (Daily Star, August 28, 1919)

The Prince departed, the joy of the evening then spilled over into a spontaneous parade led by the Salvation Army Band along Boon and Ascot, finally ending under the arch at Dufferin and St. Clair where the organizers held an impromptu community meeting to celebrate. It was almost midnight by the time the thank you speeches concluded with a closing prayer and one more national anthem.

The afterglow of the Prince’s visit carried into the second edition of the Earlscourt Fall Fair, which ran that year from September 11 to 13. A visiting American, said to be moved by Earlscourt’s hearty welcome for the Prince, had exuberantly offered to buy the much-admired evergreen arch in order to ship it across the lake to his home town. But his offer was declined in favour of preserving it long enough to be moved to Royce Park where it would serve as the St. Clair Street Entrance to the fair. Crowds of up to 15,000 people were expected at the fair, which featured a hotly contested poultry competition, awards for the healthiest babies, and tours of a 6-room model home which had been constructed nearby at 1729 Dufferin near St. Clair, featuring the latest modern amenities such as telephone service, electric heat, and kitchen cabinets.

Earlscourt Fair Photo
The president of the Earlscourt Fall Fair, Alexander MacGregor, K.C., (second from left) was credited as one of the men who successfully lobbied for the Prince of Wales to visit Earlscourt. Toronto Star, September 11, 1919.

Mayor Tommy Church, who had been a no-show at several recent Earlscourt events, now arrived to open the fair. At the opening luncheon, the mayor announced that the years of negotiation with the Royce family for the purchase of the parkland at St. Clair and Lansdowne would finally be concluded that very day. The plan, he said, was to name it the Prince of Wales Park, in honour of the royal visit – an event which would live in the neighbourhood’s memory forever. None of it quite worked out that way. Negotiations broke down again and it would be a full year – one that proved to be as hard as any of the war years for the people of Earlscourt and Toronto – before another celebration could be held on the grounds, to mark the official opening of a park the people had been asking for since the early 1910s. In the end, the park was named not in honour of the Prince, but in honour of the community that welcomed him.

107 McRoberts Avenue

Soccer is big here in Corso Italia. It’s played, it’s watched, and is it ever celebrated. Torontonians still talk about the giant spontaneous street party on St. Clair Avenue that followed Italy’s World Cup win in 1982. And then there was Portugal’s Euro Cup win in 2016. Things here just get much more exciting during a Cup series.

I always assumed our neighbourhood’s soccer heritage developed in the years following World War II, coming with the Canadians who moved here from Italy, Portugal and other European and Central and South American countries in the post-war years. And that is absolutely true, but it also turns out this neighbourhood was a hotbed of soccer activity even earlier than that. Exactly 50 years before the big Italia win, our local players were making headlines. I guess I was forgetting about a little something called English Association Football.

Soccer is said to be a British invention and since this area was originally settled by people who were mostly from the U.K. it makes sense that they brought their favourite sports with them. Plus, soccer was already well established in Ontario by the early 1900s, when our neighbourhood was being built. The website Canadian Soccer History explains how the game was transplanted from England to become a rougher, tougher version of the sport played by “Canadian Rules” in Victorian-era Ontario. Many British arrivals in Toronto during the early 1900s were not impressed by Canada’s legal tripping and kicking opponents, and pushed for teams organized under “British Rules”. As a result, a Scottish man named Tom Robertson started the Toronto & District Football League in 1908, in opposition to the existing Toronto League. By World War I, the leagues had merged into the T&D Football Association, with the British rules that Robertson had fought for.

Soccer was certainly not a priority during the First World War, although the sport continued to be played in the military and elsewhere during the war. In the 1920s, the T&D Football Association steadily rebuilt, with a new generation of Toronto boys, many of whom had grown up in Canada playing soccer. The game was played at schools, by church teams, and at the YMCA (the girls’ game was established much later, and not without struggle). An early 1920 plan of Earlscourt Park, which was to be built on the Royce Estate, included a soccer field at St. Clair and Lansdowne, along with amenities for other British favourites: cricket, lawn bowling, tennis, and quoits (I had to look up that last one!).

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An early Arthur Goss plan for Earlscourt Park gives pride of place to the football field. Courtesy City of Toronto Archives.

The reason I learned any of this is thanks to one name, printed at the bottom of a Daily Star sports page on Saturday, May 7, 1932: In a list of Fairbank Juvenile League organizers, was the secretary of the Caledonians team. This was a man named “Burgman” at 107 McRoberts. His first initial was given as “R” and the second initial is illegible on the newspaper scan.

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 “R. Burgman” was among the 1932 Fairbank Juvenile Soccer League team secretaries listed in the Daily Star.

The east end seems to still hold dear its memories of Toronto Ulster United, but we also have something to talk about over here in the west. Our banner year, 1932, went right to the top of the league with Ulster rivals, the Toronto Scottish. It was also on May 7, 1932 that the reigning National League champions, Scottish, hosted the season opener against the Hamilton Thistles to inaugurate their new home field: Oakwood Stadium on St. Clair Avenue West (where Freddie’s No Frills is now, at Alberta Avenue).

The May 5, 1932 Daily Star previewed the event, where the team would be presented with their Atholstan championship trophy by Toronto Mayor William Stewart. “The Scots have arranged quite a few novelties for the opening day. All players taking part in the game will be numbered and play can be easily followed by means of a program carrying the names and numbers of all players, which will distributed at the gate free. In addition to this there will be an opportunity to win two return tickets to the old country. Arrangements have been made for a prominent Toronto singer to lead the community singing.” The afternoon would kick off with a match between the Fairbank Juvenile League champs, Parkviews, in a West-versus-East matchup with a team called East End.

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Oakwood Stadium may have introduced the practice of numbering players to Toronto, so fans could follow the play, when the champion team Toronto Scottish FC made the stadium their home field in 1932. (May 5, 1932 Daily Star)

Just blocks to the south, another National League opener was scheduled at Conboy Stadium, located at Ossington and Van Horne (now Dupont Street), where Canadian National Railway was scheduled to take on the Toronto Transit Commission. The Star reporter said the TTC team had done some astute scouting and was expected to have a stronger season than the previous year.

For Earlscourt soccer fans who couldn’t afford a National League ticket (at Oakwood, a gate was reserved for the unemployed, who could pay a special lower entrance fee of 10 cents), there were many alternatives. The next tier down in the T&D Football Association was the Major League, which often played games in Earlscourt Park, and featured local teams including the Earlscourt Kenwoods and the Earlscourt Corinthians. Canadian General Electric had a team, too, whose home was the Brandon field, located at Davenport and Primrose.

And then there were the junior games of the Fairbank Juvenile League, which held its regular matches at Oakwood and Earnscliffe Avenues, behind Rawlinson Public School. Under the T&D rules, players were eligible to sign on junior teams, like the ones in the Fairbank League, up to the age of 20. Based on the weekly coverage in the Toronto Daily Star, Fairbank Juvenile League play in the early 1930s was fiercely competitive and closely followed. The League seems to have first been formed in the 1920s, but faltered around 1928 and was then revived in 1930. The April 2, 1931 Star noted that the Fairbank and District Juvenile Football Association had just been granted affiliation with the Toronto & District Junior Football Association.

1931 was also the year the Caledonians formed their team and joined the Fairbank League, although I couldn’t find mention of who was behind the effort. There were six teams in the league that year, and the standings published in the Star on August 15, 1931 show the Caledonians in fourth place after Parkviews, Excelsior, and the Canadians. Only the Thistles and St. David’s ranked lower. (I wonder if the fact that St. David’s had a team was due to the fact that the church’s minister Rev. Charles Mustard once had a very successful college soccer career.)

So at the start of the 1932 season, let’s just say the Caledonians had room for improvement. It was a challenge they apparently took to heart. As the season started, the Fairbank Juvenile League was also struggling. The July 2, 1932 Daily Star reported that the League had decided to fully reorganize, with a new executive. For some reason, possibly financial, the Parkviews also decided to dissolve their team, providing quite an opportunity for the other teams to pick up their players.

It is unclear what this reorganization meant for Caledonian secretary R. Burgman. I’ve only been able to learn a few things about him. First of all, his last name was actually Burgham. And I can’t find a single reference to anyone associated with 107 McRoberts with the initial “R”. The only other newspaper reference to the family in the early 1930s, was when Mrs. B.T. Burgham was lucky enough to win a pair of shoes from Simpson’s department store when she attended a Jessie De Both cooking school show on March 5, 1931.

Mrs. Bessie Burgham was a widow, having lost her husband Thomas in 1927. He had been a bricklayer, and Bessie Burgham was living with her son Arthur, who was also listed as a bricklayer in the 1932 Might’s Directory. According to the 1921 Census of Canada, Bessie and Arthur had come to Canada in 1912, where she joined her husband, who had arrived in 1905. At that time, the couple lived at 105 McRoberts, and had two more children both born in Canada, Arnold (age 7) and Marjorie (age 1). My best guess is that the Caledonians club secretary in 1932 was Arthur Burgham, who would have been about 23 years old. Perhaps his friends called him “Artie” and the Star reporter got the information verbally, converting it to “R. T.”? Or there could have been another relative at the house who just isn’t listed anywhere.

Whoever he was, Burgham and the other, unknown, team organizers really got busy in 1932. A tricky aspect of researching the Fairbank League is that the Star reports rarely give the players first names or a complete roster, just the last names of the 11 who were on the field. The names I gathered for the 1931 Caledonians are: Wagner, Goldsworthy, McClain*, Elain, Paul, Cushing, Burnett, Leeds*, Tomes (maybe a misspelling of Thomas?), Fairmund*, Sheppard*, Siers, and Sully*. The players I believe stayed with the 1932 team are the ones marked with an asterisk.

In 1932, the Caledonians were able to pick up a couple of powerhouse players. Key among them were a goalie named Fitkin, who was snagged from the Parkviews, as well as players Sammy Grassam, Johnny Clarke, Howie Briggs, and Bob Seawright. A few players who were already on the team – Eddie Sully, Norm Leeds, and Tommy Sheppard  – bonded with the newcomers into an unstoppable squad. Most of the full names come from an August 21, 1934 Star article on the team which said, “Caleys proved the sensations of juvenile soccer the past two years. Twice in succession they captured the Ontario title and managed to clean up in most of the other competitions.”

Despite the British Rules, soccer in those days was quite brutal. Players regularly broke legs and arms on the field, and I came across a few articles in my research mentioning players who had lost legs due to their injuries. An annual feature of the Fairbank Juvenile League was the Injured Players’ Cup, which raised money for medical treatment in the days before socialized medicine. Fear of medical bills wasn’t enough to tone down the play, it seems. It was during the Injured Players Cup in 1932 that the Caleys got into a serious fight with St. David’s, who felt that Bob Seawright’s transfer to the team from the Excelsiors had been done improperly.

“Feelings ran high during the game which ended in a general melee, players and spectators joining in freely,” wrote the Star on June 11, 1932. The game was called with 10 minutes remaining and a 2-2 tie. St. David’s protested to the League and the Caledonians were suspended. On appeal, though, Seawright’s transfer was accepted and a re-match was scheduled.

There is a great transcript of Bob Seawright reminiscing about his life and soccer career, preserved in the City of Sudbury archives. Seawright and his brother Bill, who was another star player, joined several other from our neighbourhood who were recruited to play on National League Teams run by the mining company Inco in Northern Ontario. In the Depression, Inco was able to attract excellent players with the promise of steady jobs in addition to the chance to play top-tier soccer.

Seawright didn’t get into the controversy that surrounded his junior league transfer, but he did explain to the interviewer how he started to play soccer, “I used to play soccer at school [at Pauline Public School] and then I started playing in juvenile soccer later on for the Caledonian Juvenile team and I played with them until the spring of ’34 when I signed a national form with the Toronto Transportation Commission which is the TTC.” (Seawright left TTC for the Creighton Mine Team after only five matches). “My dad never played soccer that I can recall unless he played it as a boy in Ireland but it was just something that we had at school and I played softball and a little bit of hockey and I think soccer was the main sport for me.”

With back-to-back Ontario Cup championships in 1932 and 1933, the Caledonians merged in 1934 with the re-formed Parkviews to create the Parkview-Caleys. I don’t know what happened to Secretary Burgham, but both Arthur and Arnold Burgham joined the armed forces and served in World War II, returning to Toronto safely after the war. The T&D Association suspended activities throughout the war, and when the game was revived, soccer gradually took on a new style and form with the contributions of players who had come to Toronto from Europe. I am very curious to know if the Caledonians’ star goalie “Fitkin” was Ed Fitkin, who became a sportswriter, Maple Leafs Public Relations man, CBC sports broadcaster, and in 1961 a partner in Toronto City FC in the short-lived Eastern Canada Professional Soccer Association. That league brought some great players over from Europe to play off season, until FIFA cracked down on the practice in the mid 1960s.

Ed Fitkin 1960 Capture
Was broadcaster and sportswriter Ed Fitkin (shown on the right in this screen grab) the Caledonians’ star goaltender in the 1930s? I hope to know one day, but regardless, Leafs fans will love this 1960 CBC team practice footage. (Check out Dave Keon, fresh out of high school!)

As for the Toronto Scottish over at Oakwood Stadium, 1932 and 1933 were also glory years. The team won back-to-back Connaught Cup Dominion of Canada championships, to become the third team in the history of the League to achieve that level of success. (For more on the Scottish, Canada Soccer has a book on the Connaught Cup available to read free online with game stats and more.) The Scottish also became the second team in the League before World War II to win a total of three Connaught Cup championships, something Toronto Ulster United FC never did. Just saying.

1933 Scottish
This 1933 team picture of Toronto Scottish FC showing off their hardware (probably taken at Oakwood Stadium) comes from the Canada Soccer book on the Connaught Cup’s pre-war history, available to read here.

 

25 McRoberts Avenue

I am extremely grateful to Robert Carter and Robert Lansdale of the Photographic Historical Society of Canada for generously sharing their advice, journal articles, and leads in my research on Llewellyn Abbott.

Today, McRoberts Avenue is home base for at least two portrait photographers: Steve Stober and my husband, Rick McGinnis. But they were preceded, almost a century ago, by photographer Llewellyn Abbott.

I have not been able to locate any of Abbott’s own work, and how I wish I could, but I have learned that he contributed his talents in the studios of three prominent Toronto photographers over the course of his long career in photography, most of which was spent living at 25 McRoberts Avenue.

Llewellyn and May Abbott moved into their newly built home at 25 McRoberts in 1922. Married in 1917, the couple had been renting an apartment above the Bank of Hamilton at Dundas Street West and Heintzman Street in the Junction. That building, designed by architect James Ellis and known as Kilburn Hall,  had once been a prominent commercial address in the neighbourhood. It seems, though, that it was a bit less desirable at the time the Abbotts were living there.

According to the 1919 Might’s Directory, several apartments were empty – even with a post-war housing shortage – and the rest were occupied by workers who would have had modest incomes. I’m guessing that making a living in a creative career in 1919 was as challenging in Toronto then as it is today.

There were no further clues about how May and Llewellyn were supporting themselves – beyond his mention in the directory as a photographer – but in 1919, May and Llewellyn became parents to twins named Maud Harriett and Doris. It seems that this spurred the Abbotts to rent a house on Heintzman Avenue, where they were enumerated in the 1921 Census of Canada. Soon after that, they bought their house on McRoberts, steps north of St. Clair Avenue West. The neighbourhood was growing quickly, with new industries, businesses and homes. I wonder if the suburban village feeling reminded the couple a bit of their hometown roots in Meaford, Ontario.

Llewellyn Abbott and Hannah May Randle were both members of well-known Meaford families. Llewellyn’s father Frederick Abbott ran a dry goods store downtown. In the 1911 Census of Canada, 26 year-old Llewellyn was living with his parents in Meaford and gave his occupation as “Studio Photographer.” The diary of Mary Williams Trout, a Meaford resident of this period, is available online thanks to the Grey County Archives. She mentions seeing “L. Abbott” about some pictures during his time in business there, on one occasion noting some negatives he wasn’t able to find. Hannah May Randle’s father, James, was an even more prominent local citizen, operating the Meaford Woolen Mill, also known as Randle’s Mill.

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Hannah May Randle’s father ran the Meaford Woolen Mill, also known as Randle’s Mill, photographed here by J.E. Evans for a 1910 postcard, courtesy Toronto Public Library (pcr-1344)

I haven’t been able to locate Llewellyn Abbott during the First World War, but at some point before 1917, he had left Meaford for Toronto. The couple’s marriage licence was issued to Llewellyn on Awde Street (now Croatia street, near Dufferin Mall in Toronto) for their September 19, 1917 wedding, which took place at the Anglican Christ Church in Meaford. He was 32 years old and she was 31, so they could easily have known each other from childhood.

Christ Church Meaford pcr-1345
A 1910 postcard of Christ Church, where Llewellyn Abbott and Hannah May Randle were married in 1917. Photo by J.E. Evans, courtesy Toronto Public Library (PCR-1345)

Before buying the house on McRoberts, Llewellyn Abbott was listed in Might’s Directory as a photographer, but no studio or business was listed in connection with his name. The 1921 Census simply says, “Photographer, General”. The 1923 Might’s Directory is the first time an employer was mentioned: Abbott was working as a photo retoucher at Charles Aylett. Aylett’s chic studio at 96 Yonge Street, just south of Adelaide, had for years seen a steady stream of the great and the good posing for “camera portraits”: socialites, business leaders, politicians, celebrities, athletes, and clergy. Today, a famous photograph taken by Aylett is the 1907 studio portrait of star marathon runner Tom Longboat.

Toronto Camera Club
Llewellyn Abbott’s employer, Charles Aylett (standing), photographed with J. H. MacKay on March 24, 1926 at the Toronto Camera Club. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 7398.

The son of a well-known English-born gardener from Hamilton, Ontario, Charles Aylett became a leader among North American photographers. By the 1920s his studio was very well established and would have been a prestigious place to land a job. Hardly a week passed without a photo credit on an Aylett portrait appearing in the news and society pages of The Daily Star or The Globe. And he fought for those credits, advocating for photographers’ copyright and acknowledgement, as well as fair payment, as President of the Ontario Society of Photographers (“Camera Experts Assemble in City”, The Globe; June 27, 1923). He was also a long-time leader of the Toronto Camera Club, was involved in the Arts and Letters Club, and in 1925 became the first Canadian elected to the executive of the International Photographer’s Association of America.

Aylett ad
An ad for the Charles Aylett studio in the June 6, 1928 Globe. Wedding portraits were an important part of the studio’s business.

The ability of Charles Aylett to employ a retoucher like Llewellyn Abbott was just one sign of his studio’s success. Everett Roseborough wrote about photo retouching in his article, “Observations on the Old and Gentle Art of Portrait Negative Retouching” in the Photographic Historical Society of Canada’s journal, Photographic Canadiana (Volume 23 Number 2 September, October 1997). In the article, he wrote that portrait studios have long relied on artful retouching to flatter clients, and most studios would employ  skilled women (or the photographer’s wife), who could be paid less than men. Roseborough says the few male retouchers worked as freelancers, who were paid on a piece-work basis.

Negative retouching was painstaking work. Roseborough describes the process in his article as highly detailed work on a glass plate using a scalpel-sharp knife, a honed lead pencil, and a fine brush with lamp black, used in combination to remove and smooth imperfections and add definition. Carcinogenic chemicals were also required to treat the negatives for retouching. A famous example of the work of another photo retoucher from that period, James Sharp, is of a Hurrell portrait taken of Joan Crawford that reportedly took six hours for Sharp to correct.

Aylett Photo of Charles Drury 1919 a030602
A 1919 Aylett portrait of Ontario Premier Charles Drury may have been taken before Llewellyn Abbot worked at the studio, but the retoucher’s hand is very evident in the shot. Added definition would also have made a handout portrait look better when it was printed in the newspapers of the day. Library and Archives Canada 1966-094 NPC. Item number 3215099.

Aylett was deeply immersed in both the art and technology of photography and surely would have demanded highly skilled assistants in his studio. That Llewellyn Abbott remained in his employ for over a decade suggests that they had a mutually satisfying working relationship. Aylett seems to have been well liked in his industry. The October 1929 issue of Camera Craft, a California-based magazine said, “If there be any photographer who has never met Charlie, let us introduce him with a word picture. A medium sized, rather slight, high browed gentleman. Soft spoken with an earnestness softened by twinkling eyes and humorous lines at the corners of his eyes. The graciousness that is peculiarly a hallmark of a well born Britisher, and a genuine affection for his kind. To us he is endeared by his utter lack of pretense and dissimulation. His sincerity is a treat.”

According to Might’s Directory, Llewellyn Abbott remained employed by Aylett’s Studio even as the Depression set in. In 1935, the studio moved to an elegantly repurposed former bank building at Yonge Street and Woodlawn Avenue, closer to Aylett’s Forest Hill home. Around that time, a young society gentleman named Randolph MacDonald began working with Charles Aylett. MacDonald became Aylett’s protégé, eventually buying the studio in the late 1930s and operating it much as Aylett had, with a steady clientele of the rich and famous, until MacDonald enlisted in the armed forces and became a war photographer overseas. By then, though, Llewellyn Abbott had already moved on to a new studio, Arthur Lane at 100 Sterling Road.

Aylett Studio Forest Hill f0207_s1251_it0121
The Charles Aylett Studio in Forest Hill, before Llewellyn Abbott left to work for Arthur Lane Studios on Sterling Road. Photographed by Geo. A. Lister on Jan. 14, 1935. Courtesy City of Toronto Archives (Fonds 207, Series 1251, Item 121)

The Arthur Lane Studio was established in 1928, although Lane’s photographic career had its roots in the portraits he took for fellow sailors in the British Navy during the First World War. The studio is still in business today, and according to an article published in the Toronto Star on August 16, 1993, Lane was a photographer with hustle to spare. He arrived in Canada from the U.K. in the mid-1920s and set up shop in his first trade, as a barber. To supplement his income, he would go out early in the morning and photograph tombstones, developing prints at night for families, so that they could share them with their relatives overseas.

Soon Lane was taking weekend motorcycle trips to resort areas around Toronto and printing postcards as well. When he established his studio, he was constantly on the lookout for opportunities. He did portrait work, even going door-to-door with a pony and taking portraits of children sitting its back (this was apparently a longstanding Toronto thing – my husband has a portrait of himself taken this way in the 1960s). As Lane’s studio became more established, he pursued his postcard business with vigour, printing scenic postcards with commissioned work from other photographers across the country. He also convinced one of his staff to hang out of an airplane to take aerial photographs of northern mines. This was the studio that Llewellyn Abbott joined in 1936, where he was again listed in Might’s Directory as a retoucher.

The building’s address at 100 Sterling Road is now occupied by part of the Nestle factory, but at the time Lane had his studio there, it was a multi-floor manufacturing and warehouse building that housed a diverse range of business, from Wahl pens and pencils, to Rogers Radio Tubes, to Dixie Cups. Arthur Lane made good use of his space on the fifth floor. At the time Abbott worked in the studio, Lane pioneered a process to print photographic enlargements at unheard-of sizes.

The Daily Star hired Lane in 1939 to produce a series of more than 50 photographs of the Royal Tour to Canada to show at the Canadian National Exhibition. Each print was about 3 by 5 feet, produced from press photograph negatives that were not taken with reproduction quality in mind. An expert retoucher would  surely have been an asset in the studio.

Retouching is not mentioned, however, in an August 23, 1939 article in the Star that describes the delicate work involved in printing the enlargements at Lane’s studio. First, careful calculations of darkroom exposure time were made, the enlarger placed on average 15 feet away from the photographic paper. Then, “Exposure over, the hard work of developing began,” wrote reporter Frederick Griffin.

“First each would go, two men carefully dunking into a tank 8 by 5 feet, holding 8 gallons of developing fluid, which meant little more then an inch on the bottom… How eagerly each was watched! How carefully, gingerly the men around the tank rubbed here and there, with their hands thus bringing slow spots out uniformly with the aid of a little body heat. So carefully was the work done with the limp prints that not one was ruined or torn in the succession of five baths of chemicals or water.”

Llewellyn Abbott seems to have stayed at Arthur Lane during the Second World War. Randolph MacDonald was overseas, where he landed with the Canadian troops on Normandy Beach during D-Day. Abbott and MacDonald’s former boss Charles Aylett died in 1942, after a long illness (some obituaries can be found here). When MacDonald returned to Toronto after the war, Llewellyn Abbott also returned to the Yonge Street studio to assist the younger photographer. Abbott would have been 60 years old at the end of the war, with more than 30 years of photographic experience under his belt.

“Ran” MacDonald was remembered in obituaries published at the time of his death as a personable but very private man. He remained a bachelor and lived in his parents’ home on Chestnut Park most of his life, retreating on weekends to a farm he bought near Woodbridge, where he could host sketching and photography parties of friends from the Arts and Letters Club and the Toronto Camera Club. Like his mentor, Charles Aylett, MacDonald also became president of the Ontario Society of Photographers. A memorial of MacDonald written by Everett Roseborough in Photographic Canadiana’s November-December 1990 issue (Volume 16, Number 3) remembered meetings of the Society at the Forest Hill Studio: “These were the years that we became more acquainted, enjoying executive meetings in the elegant white carpeted reception room, replete with grand piano, at 1286 Yonge St., with the fragrance of delicious coffee permeating the proceedings.”

A photograph of MacDonald taken by Charles Aylett and published on the cover of that issue shows him in his photographer’s smock, with an overhead spotlight shining down on him. I think it is fair to say that Randolph MacDonald, who reportedly had almost followed his father into the engineering profession, had a passion for electric lighting. According to Roseborough, he was responsible for introducing Tungsten lighting in the Toronto Camera Club studio and a favourite sideline for years was lighting theatrical productions such as the Arts and Letters Club’s annual spring show. A photograph taken of MacDonald with his friend and lighting partner Wentworth Walker shows him far more engaged with the switches on the lighting board than the person taking his picture.

Llewellyn Abbott continued to be listed as an employee of Randolph MacDonald’s studio into the early 1950s. The studio moved again in about 1949, to a space on the second floor of 26 College Street. Perhaps Randolph MacDonald anticipated the impact that the upcoming construction of the Yonge Subway line would have on Yonge Street businesses. Then, in 1952, MacDonald was listed in the Might’s Directory for the first time as a Manager at Eaton’s. He had taken on the photo studio at the department store’s flagship College Street location, where he worked until his retirement.

After that final studio move, Llewellyn Abbott continued to be listed as a photographer in the directory, but no employer was mentioned again. By 1957, he appears to have retired, hopefully for some enjoyable, peaceful years on MacRoberts with May and his family. Llewellyn and Hannah May Abbott died within five days of each other in September 1973, shortly after their 56th wedding anniversary. They are buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.