Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Favourite Posts of 2015

Well, apparently I've written fewer posts on the blog this year than in any other year since I launched the Dreams Project. But I'm going to go ahead and say that's because this year's posts were bigger, longer, more detailed and more ambitious than ever before. So I'm especially happy to share my favourites from 2015. They cover everything from drunken Prime Ministers to bloody, fashion-driven wars, from ghosts to dogs to pirates, plus plenty of baseball, too. Some of them are among the most popular posts I wrote this year; others are just personal faves.

The last couple of months have been especially quiet around these parts — but that's mostly because I've been caught up working on some exciting new ideas for 2016. Thanks so much to everyone who has read and shared and commented over the last twelve months. The next twelve should be a lot of fun.
 
So here we go!

Sir John A. Macdonald, Drunk and In Flames
It's one of the best-known facts in all of Canadian history: our first Prime Minister drank. Like, a lot. Sir John A. Macdonald wasn't just a charming social drinker; he got the kind of drunk where you find yourself puking on a chair at the Governor General's residence. Or throwing up on stage during a public debate. There were times when he went on benders that lasted for days, too drunk to show up for his official duties. And on a winter night in London, England — right in the middle of the final negotiations over Confederation — it seems to have nearly cost him his life... [continue reading this post from January 5, 2015] 


A Torontonian Historical Map of London, England
Toronto has a deeper connection to London, England than it does to almost any other city in the world. After all, our entire country was essentially ruled from this place for more than a hundred years. Some of the most important moments in the history of our city happened in this city, nearly six thousand kilometers away. As you walk through the streets of Westminster, or Piccadilly, or Mayfair, you're likely to pass dozens of hidden connections to the history of Toronto without ever realizing they're there... [continue reading this post from January 21, 2015]


Marcel Duchamp & John Cage Play Magical Chess
On a cold winter's night in 1968, a phone rang in an apartment on Spadina Road. The man who answered it was Lowell Cross, an American student at the University of Toronto. He'd come north to write his thesis on the history of electronic music, studying under Marshall McLuhan among others. Soon, he would become known as "the inventor of the laser light show," but he was already experimenting with new technologies — combining electronic music with electronic visuals. One of his multimedia projects had just been featured at Expo '67 in Montreal. He was gaining quite a reputation. That's why his phone was ringing. John Cage was calling... [continue reading this post from March 4, 2015]


A Tour of Toronto's Skyline in the Summer of 1930
The summer of 1930. It was the beginning of a difficult decade for Toronto, along with much of the rest of the world. The Great Depression had just begun. But before the stock market crashed, the boom of the 1920s had fueled construction projects all over the city. Toronto was full of elegant new landmarks — many of them still familiar to Torontonians today: Union Station, The Royal York Hotel, Maple Leaf Gardens, The Palais Royale, The Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, The Princes' Gates... And on one July day, a photographer climbed to the top of a building on the north-east corner of University & Dundas, pointed a camera south, and took this photo of our city's new skyline. It's full of interesting details, so I thought I'd give a brief "tour" of some of the buildings you can see... [continue reading this post from March 17, 2015]


The Bloody Burlington Races & The War for Lake Ontario
They appeared out of the darkness, looming above the waves. Ten warships sailing across Lake Ontario, far out in the water south of Toronto. They were first spotted at dawn, as the black September night gave way to the light of day, wooden hulls carving through the waves, sails stretching high into the early morning sky. From each of the ships flew the red, white and blue: fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. The American fleet. This was 1813. Toronto was in the middle of a war zone. And it was going to be a bloody day... [continue reading this post from March 31, 2015]


An Illustrated History of Baseball in Toronto
No one knows exactly when baseball was born. There's a bullshit story about an American war hero, Abner Doubleday, inventing the game in the 1830s, but that's a lie. What we do know is that by the end of the 1850s, baseball had already arrived in Toronto. That's when the Globe wrote about a local team practicing every Monday afternoon on the U of T grounds. But back then, many Torontonians still sneered at the new sport — they dismissed it as a sandlot game played by "undesirables." Cricket and lacrosse were much more respectable. And they were much more popular, too... [continue reading this post from April 13, 2015] 

Plus, I wrote a couple of other baseball-related posts this year:
On José Bautista's Bat Flip & The Making of History in Toronto
The Tragic Tale of Toronto's First Big Baseball Star


The True Story of Toronto's Island Ghost
They say that on some dark nights, as an eerie mist creeps over the Toronto islands, you can still hear him moaning somewhere in the distance. On others, you might hear him walking up the steps of the old lighthouse, even though there's no one there — or see a ghostly light shining up top, even when the lantern isn't lit. Sometimes, you might find his fresh blood spilled on those old wooden stairs. Or even catch a glimpse of him yourself: a spectre stalking through the undergrowth, or wandering the paths around the lighthouse, bloodied and beaten, his arms missing. They say he's the ghost of Toronto's first lightkeeper and that he's searching for the pieces of his body that were hacked off more than two hundred years ago and buried somewhere in the sand... [continue reading this post from April 30, 2015] 


Toronto's Founding Dog — And How He Almost Got Eaten
It was the summer of 1793. The summer our city was founded. On an early Tuesday morning, as the late July sun rose above Lake Ontario, a British warship sailed into Toronto Bay. She was the HMS Mississauga. She had sailed overnight from Niagara, arriving in darkness, waiting for dawn and a local fur trader to show her the way through the treacherous shoals at the mouth of the harbour. On board was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada: John Graves Simcoe. His family was with him, too. The Simcoes had come to found a new capital for the new province: a tiny muddy town that would eventually grow into a booming metropolis of concrete and glass filled with millions of people... [continue reading this post from May 27, 2015] 


A Tour of Queen & Spadina A Hundred Years Ago
It has been nearly two hundred years since the intersection of Queen & Spadina was born. When the two roads first met, Toronto still wasn't even a city yet: it was the town of York, home to less than two thousand people. Queen Street had been one of the very first roads the British built when they got here, part of the original plans for Toronto all the way back in 1793. They called it Lot Street back then, the northern edge of the first few blocks built in the new town (right around the St. Lawrence Market). A few decades later, it was renamed in honour of Queen Victoria.

By then, Spadina had also been built. It was laid out as a wide avenue by William Warren Baldwin, a doctor and lawyer who also designed Osgoode Hall and would play a leading role in the political struggle for Canadian democracy. He had just built a brand new house on his sprawling country estate; it stood on the hill above Davenport: the original Spadina House. Baldwin had the grand avenue carved out of the forest south of his home in order to get a better view of the lake. The estate, the house and the new road would all be given the same name: Spadina. It's an Anglicized version of an Ojibwe word: "Ishpadinaa" ("a place on a hill").

So it was when Baldwin built his avenue in the 1820s that the intersection of Queen & Spadina was first created...  [continue reading this post from June 23, 2015]


Toronto's Rebel Mayor & His Pirate Admiral
William Lyon Mackenzie ran for his life. His rebellion had failed. It was a disaster. His rebel army was crushed on Yonge Street. His headquarters at Montgomery's Tavern were burned to the ground north of Eglinton. Some of his men were already dead. Others would soon be hanged for treason. Just a few years earlier, Mackenzie had been the first Mayor of Toronto. Now, he was the city's most wanted fugitive. The Lieutenant Governor was offering a £1000 reward for his capture. So Mackenzie was forced to flee the city he loved, smuggled through the countryside by his supporters as gangs of angry Loyalists searched for him. He ran all the way south to Niagara, getting rowed across the river just a few minutes ahead of the men who had come to arrest him. He was lucky to escape Canada with his life. He would spend the next decade living in exile.

But Mackenzie wasn't ready to give up. Not yet. His failed rebellion in Toronto was just the beginning. Now, he and his supporters would launch a war against the British government in Canada, hoping a series of bloody border raids would spark a full-scale democratic revolution. It would last a year — for pretty much all of 1838. We call it the Patriot War.

And the rebel's admiral in that war was a man by the name of Pirate Bill Johnston... [continue reading this post from July 8, 2015]    


John Graves Simcoe, Napoleon Bonaparte & The Politics of Horseshit
This is a photo of horse shit. But it's not just any photo of horse shit. This horse shit is on Woodbury Common — a beautiful patch of heathland in the English countryside. And with horse shit on Woodbury Common, you can tell a story about the founder of Toronto — John Graves Simcoe — and about a man who challenged him to a duel over that dung.

This was a few years after Simcoe founded Toronto. He'd come back home to England by then, returning to his country in a deeply troubled time. England was at war with France... [continue reading this post from August 3, 2015]


The Beaver Wars & Toronto in the 1600s
1687. A year of war and famine on the shores of Lake Ontario. That summer, on a night in early July, an army camped near the mouth of the Rouge River, at the very eastern edge of what's now the city of Toronto. A few thousand men — professional soldiers from France, militia from Québec and their First Nations allies — feasted on venison before bed. They were tired, finally heading home at the end of a bloody campaign against the Seneca.

Their war was driven by a fashion trend. Far on the other side of the Atlantic, in the cobblestone capitals of Europe, hats made of beaver felt were all the rage. The demand had already driven European beavers to the brink of extinction. Now, the furriers turned to the Americas to feed their ravenous sartorial appetite. The competition over the slaughter of the large, aquatic rodents plunged the Great Lakes into more than a century of bloodshed and violence. By the end of the 1600s, a series of conflicts had been raging for decades on end. Thousands of warriors fought bloody battles over control of the fur trade. They called them the Beaver Wars.... [continue reading this post from December 16, 2015]

Monday, December 28, 2015

My Favourite Photos of 2015

It was another fun year for the Toronto Dreams Project, rambling around the city leaving dreams in historical places, snapping photos with my phone as I went. And with just a few days left in 2015, I figured I would share some of my favourite shots from the year that was. My very favourite is probably the photo above: taken from Ward's Island in November. Below, you'll find twenty more — starting with the most Instragrammable new landmark in Toronto.

To follow my rambles in 2016, follow the Dreams Project on Instagram or Twitter (@TODreamsProject) or like the project on Facebook.

The brand new Toronto sign.
The Pan Am Games Closing Ceremony fireworks from Ward's Island
The brand new Toronto sign.
The Queen Street viaduct. Heraclitus, the Weeping Philosopher.
The Guild Park. From the old 1903 Bank of Nova. Used to be on King Street.
The Terry Fox Miracle Mile at Canoe Landing Park. By Douglas Coupland.
The room full of Henry Moore sculptures at the AGO
Gordo the Barosaurus at the ROM. Lost in the archives for 40 years.
The newly luminous "luminous veil" on the Bloor Street Viaduct.
Anish Kapoor's "Mountain." Simcoe Park. Same guy who did Chicago's bean.
Summer in High Park.
Summer in High Park.
The August view from the island ferry.
The Highland Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. August in Scarborough.
Autumn in the Kawartha Lakes.
At the Blue Jays first playoff game in 22 years.
October in the Moore Park Ravine.
The Toronto-Dominion Centre. Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
November on Ward's Island.
December waves on Lake Ontario. Near East Point. Scarborough Bluffs.


To follow my rambles in 2016, follow the Dreams Project on Instagram or Twitter (@TODreamsProject) or like the project on Facebook


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Bloody Beaver Wars & Toronto in the 1600s

1687. A year of war and famine on the shores of Lake Ontario. That summer, on a night in early July, an army camped near the mouth of the Rouge River, at the very eastern edge of what's now the city of Toronto. A few thousand men — professional soldiers from France, militia from Québec and their First Nations allies — feasted on venison before bed. They were tired, finally heading home at the end of a bloody campaign against the Seneca.

Their war was driven by a fashion trend. Far on the other side of the Atlantic, in the cobblestone capitals of Europe, hats made of beaver felt were all the rage. The demand had already driven European beavers to the brink of extinction. Now, the furriers turned to the Americas to feed their ravenous sartorial appetite. The competition over the slaughter of the large, aquatic rodents plunged the Great Lakes into more than a century of bloodshed and violence. By the end of the 1600s, a series of conflicts had been raging for decades on end. Thousands of warriors fought bloody battles over control of the fur trade. They called them the Beaver Wars.

This was long before the city of Toronto was founded, long before the British conquered Québec, all the way back in the days when the French still claimed the Great Lakes for themselves. As far as they were concerned, this was New France. But barely any Europeans had ever set foot on this land: only a few early explorers, fur traders and missionaries. Where skyscrapers and condo towers now reach into the clouds, there was an ancient forest of towering oak and pine, home to moose, wolves and bears. But there were plenty of people here, too — just not French ones: the First Nations and their ancestors had been living here for thousands and thousands of years.

Beaver felt hats, 1776-1825
In the late 1600s, the Seneca had two bustling villages within the borders of today's Toronto, with dozens of longhouses surrounded by vast fields of golden maize. In the west, Teiaiagon watched over the Humber River at the spot where Baby Point is now (just a bit north of Bloor Street and Old Mill Station). In the east, Ganatsekwyagon had a commanding view over the Rouge.

They were both very important places. The Humber and the Rouge were at the southern end of a vital fur trade route: the Toronto Carrying Place trail, which gave our city its name. The rivers stretched north from Lake Ontario toward Lake Simcoe. From there, fur traders could reach the Upper Great Lakes, where the beaver population was still doing relatively well. Now that the Seneca controlled the Toronto Carrying Place, they could ship beaver pelts south into the American colonies and sell them to their British allies.

That pissed the French right off. They wanted those beaver pelts flowing east down the Ottawa River instead, toward their own relatively new towns of Montreal and Québec. By then, they had already spent decades fighting over the fur trade. They were on one side of the Beaver Wars, generally allied with the Wendat (the Europeans called them the Huron) and a variety of Algonquin-speaking nations, like the Odawa. On the other, the British supported the Haudenosaunee (who they called the Iroquois): a confederacy of five nations, including the Seneca.

And things were only getting worse for the French. By 1687, they still had only a few thousand settlers living in all of New France, most of them centered around Québec and Montreal. They had tried to expand their control west into the Great Lakes, establishing a trading post — Fort Frontenac — where Kingston is today. But their efforts ended in humiliating failure. They'd been forced to make peace with the Haudenosaunee and their British allies.

They were beginning to worry that they were going to lose the Beaver Wars entirely — and all of New France with them. They were scared the Haudenosaunee might overrun their settlements in Québec, and that their own First Nations allies would soon abandon them to trade with their enemies instead. 

Thousands of kilometers away, in his new royal palace of Versailles, King Louis XIV — the famous Sun King, who reigned over France longer than any monarch has ever reigned over a major European nation — decided it was time for a change. The Governor of New France was fired. In his place, a new Governor was sent across the Atlantic to run things.

His remarkably long name was Jacques-René de Brisay de Denonville. He was a career solider: a respected officer from an old, rich family with deep ties to the throne. Upon his arrival in Canada, he would wage even more bloody war.

~~~

Jacques-René de Brisay de Denonville
The new Governor's first move was to ignore the peace treaty. Denonville sent a hundred men north to Hudson's Bay to launch a surprise attack against British trading posts there. It was a rout. The French seized three posts run by the Hudson's Bay Company. Now, they controlled the northern trade.

Next, Denonville turned to treachery. In the summer of 1687, he proposed a peace council: a great feast with the leaders of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Fifty chiefs came to Fort Frontenac that June to meet under a flag of truce. But it was a French trap. When the chiefs and their families arrived, Denonville's men captured them all, taking about 200 prisoners. Some were tied to posts, bound so tight they couldn't move; some were tortured. Many would be shipped across the Atlantic in chains to serve King Louis as galley slaves.

And Denonville still wasn't done. He'd brought an army with him to Fort Frontenac: 3,000 men, including professional French soldiers, militiamen from Québec, a few coureur de bois, and hundreds of First Nations allies. He led them across Lake Ontario, a sprawling fleet of hundreds of canoes and bateaux sailing toward the southern shore, where New York State is today: the heartland of the Seneca.

The Governor's plan was simple: an invasion to capture and kill as many people as he could. His ultimate goal was laid out clearly in letters sent back and forth across the Atlantic between Denonville, his boss at Versailles, and King Louis himself.

They wanted, they said, "the Establishment of the Religion, of Commerce and the King's Power over all North America." They wanted New France to stretch all the way from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the mouth of the Mississippi. To do it, they said, they would have to destroy the Haudenosaunee. If they failed, they feared the ruin of New France.

Denonville's boss — a government minister at Versailles — laid out the plan: "all their plantations of Indian corn will be destroyed, their villages burnt, their women, children and old men captured and their warriors driven into the woods where they will be pursued and annihilated by other Indians who will have served under us during this war."

"[His Majesty]," the minister wrote in a letter to Denonville, "expects to learn at the close of this year, the entire destruction of the greatest part of the Savages."

The army landed near where Rochester is today, at Irondequoit Bay. Then, they headed south toward Ganondagan, the biggest of the Seneca villages. Three columns of French soldiers marched through the forest with their First Nations allies. They carried swords and torches and arquebuses — an early forerunner of the musket.

Ganondagan State Historic Site today
But Denonville would have trouble finding anyone to capture or to kill. There was only a single battle fought during the entire campaign. One afternoon, as the French army was approaching Ganondagan through a narrow pass, hundreds of Seneca warriors opened fire on them from behind. There were dozens of casualties on both sides, but the attack failed. Outnumbered, the Seneca warriors retreated.

After that, they disappeared. Denonville didn't see another enemy warrior during the rest of the campaign. And every time his army arrived at a Seneca village, they found it already abandoned.

So the Governor adjusted his plan. If he couldn't kill the Seneca with swords and guns, he would starve them to death instead.

"I deemed it our best policy," he explained to Versailles, "to employ ourselves laying waste the Indian corn which was in vast abundance in the fields, rather than follow a flying enemy..."

For the next ten days, the French army was hard at work burning fields of maize. Kilometer after kilometer went up in smoke. Vast stores were destroyed, too; everything that had been saved for the winter. According to the Governor's own estimates, his men burned 1.2 million bushels of maize. Plus, they burned beans and other vegetables. A "vast quantity" of pigs was killed, too. Entire villages were burned to the ground.

With winter coming in just a few short months, Denonville's scorched earth campaign was enough to cause a famine. It wasn't just Seneca warriors who would die thanks to the French: Denonville's war was a war against civilians. Against the entire Seneca people.

"We have, assuredly," the Governor boasted, "humbled the Senecas to a considerable degree, and seriously lowered their pride and raised the courage of their Indian enemies." 

~~~
 
Longhouse village
By the end of those ten days, Denonville's army was tired. It had been weeks since they left Montreal, making the long and dangerous journey up the rapids and waterfalls of the St. Lawrence River toward Lake Ontario. They'd marched through the woods for days on end, weighed down by their supplies, plagued by mosquitoes. Now, they were getting sick too. "It is full 30 years that I have had the honour to serve," the Governor wrote to Versailles, "but I assure you, my lord, that I have seen nothing that comes near this in labour and fatigue."
 
Meanwhile, some of his First Nations allies were already leaving. There were tensions. Denonville had been badmouthing them in his reports for their "barbarities" and "cruelties" (without even the slightest hint of irony). Some of them were from Haudenosaunee nations themselves — having allied with the French after converting to Christianity — and many seemed to have reservations about the scorched earth campaign. When Denonville asked them to burn the Seneca maize, they'd simply refused.

The Governor decided it was finally time to head home.

He took the long way around. First, the army stopped at Niagara. There, they built a new French fort on the spot where Niagara-on-the-Lake is today. Fort Denonville would give the French and their First Nations allies a base of operations to launch future attacks against the Seneca.

Then, they followed the shoreline as it wrapped all the way around the lake — passing future sites of cities like St. Catharines, Hamilton and Oakville — which brought them, eventually, to the place where Toronto now stands. 

It's hard to tell from Denonville's reports exactly where they stopped each night. But most historians seem to think the army spent two nights within the borders of today's Toronto: the first near the mouth of the Humber River; the second near the mouth of the Rouge.

In his dispatches, the Governor doesn't mention anything about the inhabitants of Teiaiagon or Ganatsekwyagon, the Seneca villages on those rivers. Some historians have suggested that Denonville's army must have destroyed them, too. But it's also entirely possible that the Seneca had voluntarily abandoned them years earlier. Communities usually moved to a new location every 10 to 15 years or so.

Pretty much all the information we have comes from the entry Denonville made in his diary that day — the day we think he woke up at the Humber and travelled to the Rouge. It's not much, but it's one of the very earliest written accounts of the place where Toronto now stands:

The mouth of the Rouge River today
"The storm of wind and rain, prevented us from leaving in the morning but at noon, the weather clearing up, we advanced 7 or 8 leagues and encamped at a place to which I had sent forward our Christian Indians from below. We found them with two hundred deer they had killed, a good share of which they gave to our army, that thus profited by this fortunate chase."

The next morning, the army continued east toward Montreal.

Denonville's campaign had succeeded in bringing death to the shores of Lake Ontario, but his greater goals would fail. The Seneca suffered terribly that winter, but the nation was far from destroyed. And the Haudenosaunee would fight back. The Five Nations of the Confederacy launched their own campaigns deep into the heart of New France. They raided French settlements and destroyed farms. Two years after Denonville's army slept on the banks of the Rouge, Mohawk warriors would travel all the way to the island of Montreal and attack the French settlers at Lachine, burning the town to the ground.

That same year, Denonville was replaced as Governor and returned home to France. He got a new job at Versailles: tutor to the king's kids.

Back in Canada, the wars raged on for another decade. But some leaders on both sides were working toward peace. By the end of the 1600s, the French had tracked down all of the surviving chiefs forced into slavery by Denonville's treachery. Thirteen of them were still alive. They were finally allowed to return home. Meanwhile, the Haudenosaunee were starting to worry about the growing power of their British allies. In 1701, a huge peace council was held at Montreal, with long negotiations leading to a treaty between New France and forty of the First Nations, including the Haudenosaunee. The Great Peace of Montreal became one of the defining moments in Canadian history.

As for Toronto, in the decades that followed the Great Peace, the French established their own trading posts at the southern end of the Carrying Place trail. Fort Douville was built near Teiaiagon. Fort Toronto was at the mouth of the Humber. Fort Rouillé stood on the Exhibition Grounds. By then, their allies, the Mississauga, had moved south into the area; they had villages at Ganatsekwyagon and near Teiaiagon, too.

But the days of peace wouldn't last: there would be even bigger wars in the 1700s. The British eventually invaded New France, winning the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and conquering all of French Canada. The last of the French forts at Toronto — Fort Rouillé — was burned as their troops retreated.

Then it was the American Revolution. The British were overthrown in the United States and those who were still loyal to the Crown were driven from their homes. A flood of Loyalist refugees fled north. Many of them ended up on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, where the British created a new province for them. They called it Upper Canada.

The new province would need a new capital. It would be built on a sheltered harbour between the Humber and the Rouge: at the end of the ancient fur trade route where the First Nations and their ancestors had been living — and hunting beavers — for thousands upon thousands of years. A place they called Toronto.

-----

You can read the documents sent between Denonville, his boss and the King as part of the Documentary History of New York State, which you'll find on Google Docs here.

You can read Denonville's biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography here and his Wikipedia page here. The page for the Beaver Wars is here, Ganondagan is here, the Great Peace of Montreal is here, Teiaiagon is here, Ganatsekwyagon is here, Fort Rouillé is here and some of the other French forts here

David Wencer writes about Teiaiagon for Torontoist here and the Canadian Encyclopedia has more about it here. The Kingston Whig-Standard has more about Denonville's treacherous "peace council" here. And the Counterweights blog shares a history of Toronto before the modern city was founded here

The image of the beaver hats comes via Wikipedia, the painting on Denonville comes via the Répertoire du patrimoine culturel de Québec, Ganondagan State Historic Site comes via FingerLakes.com, the longhouse village comes via the Canadian Encyclopedia, and I took the photo of the Rouge River myself.



A version of this story will appear in
The Toronto Book of the Dead

Coming September 2017 from Dundurn Press
Available for pre-order now

This post is related to dream
40 The Beaver Wars
Jacques-René de Brisay de Denonville, 1687

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Hudson Bay Company's Creepy Latin Motto


Pro Pelle Cutem. Skin for skin. Kiiiiind of a creepy 350 year-old motto. The Hudson Bay Company dropped it in 2002 and just started using it again in 2013. It seems to be a pun-ish reference to Satan's line in the Book of Job: "Skin for skin; yea, all that a man hath, he will give for his life." There are various interpretations of the motto, but lots of people say that it was a morbid suggestion that the Company was willing to risk the lives of their fur traders (and to kill others!) in order to get their hands on beaver pelts. Much of early Canadian history, of course, was driven by the European appetite for beaver hats. The fashion nearly drove our national animal to extinction.

-----

You can learn more about the history of motto — and the Company — from the Bay's website here. And the Manitoba Historical Society has an old article about the motto here, originally published in the Beaver in 1958.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dream 19 "The Wolves of King Street East" (Charles G.D. Roberts, 1884)

He had the same dream every winter. He was standing on King Street, alone on a night with fresh snow, a clear sky and a full moon. Icicles hung like crystals. Every dark corner was made bright. Even then, he could only barely see them: faint lupine shadows slipping up out of the frosted forests of the Don Valley and into the sparkling heart of the city. They moved quickly and with purpose, seemed to know all of the houses and schools where the children slept. They slunk beneath the cracks of closed doors and through barely-open windows, crept up stairs and into bedrooms. Toothy muzzles were lifted up onto pillowcases, and steamy, wet breath warmed young, sleeping faces.

Those wolves whispered secrets into those innocent ears. On that night, the boys and girls of Toronto dreamed of the frozen White North. Of the wintry wilds of Canada. Of moose and of elk and of ice.

-----

Sir Charles G.D. Roberts was one of the very first world-famous Canadian authors. He wrote children's stories about animals in the late 1800s and early 1900s and became the first Canadian author to be knighted for his work.

You can read more about his life and his clash with U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt on Spacing here. Explore more Toronto Dreams Project postcards here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

On José Bautista's Bat Flip & The Making of History in Toronto

The very first legendary home run ever hit in Toronto was hit in 1887. More than a century before Joe Carter's famous World Series walk-off at the SkyDome, Cannonball Crane hit a homer into the sky above the Don Valley to end a game at Sunlight Park. It was made all the more impressive by the fact that it came during extra innings in the second game of a double-header — and that Crane had pitched all 20 innings for the Toronto Baseball Club on that Saturday afternoon. Those two victories sparked a 16-game winning streak that brought Toronto our very first baseball championship.

Cannonball Crane fell apart soon after, spending his final days as a broke, unemployed, depressive alcoholic who met his end by drinking a bottle of a chloral at a seedy motel across the lake in Rochester. But thanks to that home run, he'd already written his name into the history of our city. He was a hero. For decades to come, his name would be mentioned with reverent awe on a regular basis in Toronto. And it still is from time to time. In fact, next summer Heritage Toronto will unveil a new plaque on the spot where Sunlight Park once stood — at Queen & Broadview — and it will include a mention and a photo of Crane. Nearly 130 years after his game-winning home run, the name of Cannonball Crane is still remembered. 

Those opportunities for quasi-immortality don't come along very often. Extraordinary talent has to conspire with a strange amount of luck in front of an unusually large audience. Cannonball Crane was one of the greatest pitchers and sluggers of his time, brought to the plate at just the right moment in front of a record-setting crowd — about 10% of the entire population of Toronto was at Sunlight Park that day.

On Wednesday night, one of the greatest sluggers of our time came to the plate at the SkyDome during one of the strangest innings in baseball history — and more than 10% of the entire population of Canada was watching.

Ned "Cannonball" Crane
No one ever expected José Bautista to become a superstar. He was drafted in the 20th round. He spent years as a forgettable utility infielder. In his rookie season, he got released and traded four times in just a few months — from one terrible team to another. Finally, Pittsburgh traded him to Toronto for a middling minor league catcher.

The Blue Jays didn't expect him to become a superstar either. But after making an adjustment to his swing — adding a higher leg kick to change his timing — that's exactly what he did become. In 2010, he hit 54 home runs — a dozen more than anybody else hit that year. And he hasn't looked back. Since Bautista became a slugger, no other slugger has hit more home runs than he has. On Thursday, Joe Posnanski of NBC Sports called Bautista's career "one of the most bizarre and inspiring stories in the history of baseball."

They say that thanks to his early struggles — along with facing the subtle and not-so-subtle racism of the old school baseball establishment — the Dominican Bautista has always played as if he has something to prove. And that, in part, is what makes him such a perfect fit for Toronto.

Torontonians, too, feel like we have something to prove. We always have. It's our infamous colonial mentality, stretching all the way back to our early days as a muddy outpost on a distant, snowy frontier. Our city was founded as a capital — but a tiny capital, thousands of kilometers away from the heart of the British Empire, dwarfed by the American juggernaut to the south. We've always been secretly ambitious (our founder, John Graves Simcoe, wanted Toronto to become a city so awesome that Americans would beg to be let back into the British fold), but we worry that if we're honest with ourselves we'll find that we're largely irrelevant. That inferiority complex was already in place long before Cannonball Crane stepped to the plate on that September afternoon in 1887. It was, I suspect, part of what drove the crowd's frenzied reaction when he crushed his game-winning home run.

As the fans lifted Crane onto their shoulders and paraded him out of Sunlight Park and onto Queen Street, the team's owner scrawled a triumphant message on the scoreboard: "CITIZENS, ARE YOU CONTENT? TORONTO LEADS THE LEAGUE."

The crowd went nuts. In Toronto, we're always looking for signs that we really do deserve our place as one of the most important cities on the continent — even if those signs come from something as random and trivial as the outcome of a baseball game. On that day, it must have felt like our city was finally coming into its own: a booming metropolis in a brand new nation... and now a famous baseball star to call our own and a fresh championship pennant to hang in our brand new stadium.

It felt like that again in the early 1990s, as Joe Carter wrote his own name into our city's history with his own game-winning home run. We were still a booming metropolis, even bigger now, playing on a bigger stage, proud of our country and our place in the world — of peacekeeping and of Heritage Minutes and of top spot on U.N. lists — with yet another fresh pennant hanging in yet another brand new baseball stadium. Those Blue Jays seemed like us, the way many in Toronto were beginning to see themselves back then: cosmopolitan, multicultural, professional, elite...

Joe Carter's walk-off
But since then, of course, our sports teams haven't exactly helped with the whole inferiority complex thing. At this point, no North American city with as many major sports franchises as we have in Toronto has gone this long without at least appearing in a championship final. And while sports are supposed to be a silly distraction that ultimately doesn't mean much, it does do something to a city — there is a civic toll that comes with being a city full of Leafs fans. Especially here, where sometimes it still feels like we live on a forgotten, snowy frontier, where blowing a 4-1 lead late in a hockey game seems to confirm our worst fears about ourselves and our place in the world. Even if that's really quite silly.

In Toronto, we're used to getting our hopes up only to have them immediately dashed in spectacular, heartbreaking fashion. We're used to feeling embarrassed by our sports teams, and that feeling spills over into other areas, too: we're embarrassed by our sports teams, by the new name of the SkyDome, by our transit system, by our racist Prime Minster, by our crack-smoking mayor...

For most of this last week, it felt like it was all happening again. As far as talent is concerned, the Blue Jays are a juggernaut — some say they're one of the greatest baseball teams ever assembled. But in a short playoff series bad luck can bring down even the greatest of baseball teams. And Toronto is used to bad luck.

When the Jays lost the first two games at home, there was a familiar sinking feeling. And as they clawed their way back into the series over the next two games, hitting thrilling home runs in the distant heat of Texas, we were reluctant to get our hopes up again, a city full of Charlie Browns sick of trying to kick that football.

For most of Wednesday night, in the sudden death of Game Five, it seemed like we were right to be suspicious. For the first six-and-a-half innings, disaster loomed: the Jays quickly went down by two runs, fought their way back to tie the game with a mammoth home run from another lovable Dominican slugger — Edwin Encarnación, walker of the parrot, bringer of hat tricks — and then, almost immediately, there was that bizarre fluke throw by Canadian catcher Russell Martin, the ball clanking off Shin-Soo Choo's bat and sputtering down the line as the go-ahead run dashed home from third base. This was how we were going to end our season? This confusing mess of a run?

The aftermath of the Martin-Choo play
The pathetic, childish, dangerous rain of beer cans that followed wasn't just about that specific moment in the game, it was about 20 years without a Blue Jays playoff appearance, about half a century without a Stanley Cup, about Vince Carter and Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani. It was disgust not just with the umpires or the rules, but with all of sports in general, with the whole concept of random chance, with the very nature of the universe itself...

But luck is a funny thing.

Baseball — like life — is at its best when it feels like magic. It's a long, unfathomably complicated thing, a baseball season. It's impossible for a mind to wrap itself around all the pieces and interactions involved: the hundreds of players, the thousands of games, the hundreds of thousands of individual plays that can be broken down into millions of distinct elements. It can be an awe-inspiring experience, watching it all unfold. The almost quantum-like fluctuations of individual pitches gradually build themselves into larger structures over the course of the summer, into the baseball equivalent of planets and stars: games, seasons and careers. At times, luck and human agency come together in a sequence of events that seems to defy the laws of reason and logic and chance — producing moments that seem nearly miraculous. Cannonball Crane hits a walk-off home run on a day he pitches 20 innings. Joe Carter becomes the only player in the history of the sport to hit a come-from-behind home run to win the World Series. We are reminded that amazing, wonderful, stupid, lucky things can happen. Even to us.

No one has ever seen anything like that seventh inning. Posnanski called it, "The craziest, silliest, weirdest, wildest, angriest, dumbest and funniest inning in the history of baseball... There has never been an inning like it." That thought has been echoed over and over again in the hours since it happened — not just by people in Toronto, but by baseball fans everywhere. On her CBS Sports Radio show, Amy Lawrence promised, "We will never forget what happened in that seventh inning." It was, without a doubt, one of the most memorable 53 minutes in the entire history of a sport that has kept records since before the American Civil War... since before Canadian Confederation... since before Toronto's first skyscraper was so much as a glint in an architect's eye... Talent and good luck conspired on an international stage in a way that no one has ever seen before. And it happened in Toronto. To Toronto.

Russell Martin tries to throw the ball back to the pitcher and it hits Choo's bat. The Rangers make three straight errors. José Bautista comes to the plate...

No current Blue Jay has been a Blue Jay as long as José Bautista has. No Blue Jay has waited longer for the team to make the playoffs. For years, Jays fans have worried that bad luck and the lack of talent around him would conspire to waste his years here. That he might be doomed to share the fate of Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay: superstars who never played a playoff game with a blue bird on their chest, who will always be remembered fondly in Toronto, beloved, but never had a chance to write their name into the history of our city in one instant, with the indelible ink of a miracle in the postseason or during the final days of a pennant race. They never had the chance to do something extraordinary with our whole city watching, our whole country, our whole continent... the kind of moment that turns you into more than just a baseball player, that makes you, in some very small way, immortal.

Historica bait
You could see it all in that bat flip. The years of struggle. The years spent playing for Toronto teams that were never quite as good as he was. The years of being ignored in favour of the Red Sox and the Yankees. The years without a playoff berth. Gone. In an instant. In one blazing miracle of a home run.

Gone for Bautista and gone for Toronto, too. We're happy to have that bat flip speak for all of us — which is part of why I think we fell so deeply and instantaneously in love with it. It's the swagger Toronto is learning to have. The swagger we want to have. The Toronto of Drake and of #The6ix. Of a giant TORONTO sign in Nathan Phillips Square. Of one of the world's great music scenes. Of Nuit Blanche and First Thursdays and Friday nights at the ROM. Of a city that is slowly realizing — despite all the real and serious problems we still have to solve — that we really are pretty great, y'know.

We're a city coming to the realization that more than 200 years after Simcoe founded our muddy town, we actually have lived up to our original promise. And if we still doubt it, Bautista's home run gives us another chance to get the external validation we want so badly. For this moment at least, we can forget about them flying our flag upside-down and about whatever that moron Harold Reynolds thinks. Toronto, the scribes of NBC Sports remind us as they marvel at that miraculous inning, is "one of the world’s great cities." 

Now, whatever happens, we'll always remember these Blue Jays. These Jays who feel in so many ways like a reflection of our own city. Of the Toronto of 2015. A cast of characters drawn together from all over the world. Truly multicultural. The young, social media savvy pitcher from Long Island. The rookie closer, the youngest player in baseball, who quit school as a kid to work in the fields of Mexico. The oldest player in baseball, who loves the members of his fan club so much that he goes to their weddings. The quiet Dominican slugger who bought an entire block of his poor, corrupt-sugar-company-run hometown so the residents can still keep living there. The nerdy veteran pitcher from Nashville who has battled depression and struggled with childhood sexual abuse, who mastered the mysterious art of the knuckleball when it seemed like his career was over. The Australian reliever. The Japanese goofball. The Italian-American who spent years playing in the independent leagues before finally getting his big break. The catcher from Montreal who gives press conferences in both official languages. The rookie from Mississauga who runs like the wind. The whiz-kid Canadian General Manager, who got his start with the Expos, who is usually reserved but who parties, gets drunk, and curses with his team on the night they clinch the pennant.

Even if the season ends next week, even if the Jays don't win another game, people in Toronto — people all over Canada — will remember Donaldson and Tulo and Price and Sanchez and Papa Buehrle and Pillar's crazy catches and the beaming smile of Ben Revere...

But most of all we'll remember José Bautista. And that bat flip. And the night it felt like Toronto really could live up to our spot on the big stage. Just like we did in 1993. And in '92. And in 1887.

-----

Rob Ford was there, by the way, somewhere at the Dome as Bautista's home run soared into the seats. But we weren't embarrassed — we were too busy celebrating, we didn't even care. 

You can my full, illustrated history of baseball in Toronto here. I've also written more about the tragic tale of Cannonball Crane here, the 1887 Toronto Baseball Club here, plus the greatest second baseman in Toronto (who isn't who you think it is) here, Babe Ruth's first home run here, and Joe Carter's World Series-winning dream here.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Tragic Tale of Toronto's First Big Baseball Star

The bases were loaded. It was the bottom of the eight. This was it: first place was on the line. Toronto and Newark headed into that Saturday afternoon battling for the lead in the International League — along with the team in Jersey City. With only a couple of weeks left in the 1887 season, every win was vitally important. And with only an inning left in their second game of the day, Toronto was losing to Newark by three runs.

That's when Ned "Cannonball" Crane came to the plate. He was the ace of the Toronto pitching staff; a giant of a man: big and tall and impossibly strong. He once threw a ball more than 400 feet — a world record; impressive even by today's standards — and he could throw a ball faster than anybody else could, either. He was one of the game's first big power pitchers. He combined the blistering speed of his fastball with a "deceptive drop ball" that baffled opposing hitters. It was a deadly combination. He won 33 games for Toronto that year — more than any other pitcher has ever won on any Toronto team.

And he could hit, too. Crane was one of the best hitters in the whole league that year. His .428 average is still considered to be the best batting average by a pitcher in professional baseball history. (If he'd hit that in the Majors, it would put him sixth on the all-time list for any position.) On the days when Crane wasn't pitching, he was in the outfield or at second base so they could keep his bat in the line-up.

On that Saturday afternoon in September, Crane had already done more than his fair share. Toronto and Newark were playing a double-header — two games at the Torontos' new stadium at Queen & Broadview, on a spot overlooking the Don Valley.

It was originally known as the Toronto Baseball Grounds, but it would soon be nicknamed Sunlight Park in honour of the nearby Sunlight Soap Works factory. Spectators could walk in off Queen Street or ride up in their carriages and park their horses on the grounds. Admission was a quarter — plus an extra dime or two to sit in the best seats in the house. The sheltered grandstand had enough room for more than 2,000 people, and there was standing room for another 10,000 — a capacity not that much smaller than a Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre today. But the stadium had never seen attendance like this. Those two games against Newark drew a record-setting crowd.

In the first game, Crane pitched all nine innings, keeping the Newark hitters at bay while the Toronto bats smashed their way to victory. The final score was 15-5.

But there was still one more game left to win. And now the Torontos had already used up their ace. The scheduled pitcher for the second game was a fellow by the name of Baker — and as the first pitch drew near, he was out on the field, getting ready just as everyone expected.

Sunlight Park (detail from an 1890s map)
And then, a surprise: as the Toronto team took the field to start the second game, Baker didn't head toward the pitcher's box. Instead, it was Cannonball Crane who came back to take his spot in the middle of the diamond.

A reporter from the Globe was there: "As soon as it was made clear that Crane was to pitch the second game, hundreds leaped to their feet and cheered frantically, a mighty whirl of enthusiasm took everybody within its embrace and an astounding volume of sound shook the stands and swept down toward the city and out over the grounds like the march of a tornado."

Cannonball Crane was going to pitch two games in one day.

Still, even with Crane in the pitcher's box, the second game didn't get off to a good start. Toronto fell behind and stayed there. It wasn't until the eighth inning — behind by three runs — that they rallied to load the bases, bringing Cannonball to the plate with a chance to play the hero.

And that's exactly what he did. The slugger hit a double, clearing the bases. Three runs scored. The game was tied. It would head to extra innings.

Crane kept pitching. He held Newark scoreless in the tenth. And then again in the eleventh. He had now pitched 20 innings in one afternoon.

In the bottom of the eleventh, Crane came to the plate with a chance to play the hero yet again. He crushed a pitch high into the sun above the Don Valley: deep, deeeep, gone. A walk-off home run. Toronto had won both games. According to the Globe, as Crane rounded the bases "the mighty audience arose and cheered and stamped and whistled and smashed hats... the frantic fans dashed on to the field and carried Crane aloft as his foot touched home."

The team's owner — a stock broker by the name of E. Strachan Cox — headed over to the scoreboard. He wrote a message for the crowd:

"CITIZENS, ARE YOU CONTENT? TORONTO LEADS THE LEAGUE."

The team had taken first place — and they would keep it for the rest of the season, winning every single game for the rest of the year. By the time it was all over, they'd won 16 in a row. Toronto had our first baseball championship.

But our hero wouldn't be back for the 1888 season. Instead, Crane signed with the New York Giants, helping them win the National League pennant and then the World's Series. He threw a no-hitter that year — and became one of the very first pitchers to ever wear a glove while fielding.

Sadly, that season was the beginning of the end. Things began to unravel for the pitcher almost as soon he left Toronto.

At the end of that first season with the Giants, Crane was invited to join Spalding's World Tour. The biggest stars in baseball signed up for a trip around the world, showcasing the sport to other countries. They played games in the shadow of the Sphinx, on the grounds of the Crystal Palace in London, outside the Villa Borghese in Rome... plus Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, France, Samoa, Yemen, Ceylon...

Spalding's World Tour at the Villa Borghese
The problem was that when the players weren't on the field, they were partying. Crane had gone his entire life without ever having a single drink... right up until the days just before the tour began. "Crane," as one newspaper reported, "did not know what the taste of liquor was like until he made the trip around the world. He got his start drinking wine at the banquets tendered the American tourists."

And as Crane quickly discovered, he liked to drink. Far too much.

"Crane began drinking heavily from the moment he joined the tour in Colorado," according to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). "By the time the men reached San Francisco, he had missed several games due to drunkenness and being hung-over." They hadn't even left the United States yet and Crane was already a mess.

He spent much of the tour serving as a sluggish umpire with a headache and heatstroke instead of actually playing in the games. At some stops, he never even got off the ship — choosing instead to get drunk on board with his tiny, trouble-making pet monkey, entertaining his fellow passengers by breaking into song. At one point, he even had a stand-off with soldiers at the French-Italian border when they insisted he pay an extra fare for his simian companion.

The Giants repeated as World's Series champions the very next year. And Crane was back in the pitcher's box, serving as their ace, winning five games in the Series. He would go on to have a solid Major League career, finishing up with a 3.99 ERA over eight seasons. But as he continued to drink, his weight ballooned and he lost his effectiveness as a pitcher. His final year in the Majors was a disaster: a 6.98 ERA over twelve games. He was released by the Giants twice, signed by Brooklyn and then released by them, too. Things were spiraling out of control.

People in Toronto still loved him, though. In 1895, he returned to play for our city. But he wasn't the same. After an uninspiring beginning to the season, he was released for what the Toronto Evening Star called "alleged sulkiness on the field." The team across the lake in Rochester then signed him and gave him another shot, but Crane didn't even show up for his first game.

He made his final appearance at Sunlight Park in the summer of 1896. He was playing for Springfield now. The Toronto fans gave him a warm welcome as he came out onto the field overlooking the Don Valley, but it was a bittersweet reunion. By then, Crane weighed nearly 300 pounds. His glory days were far behind him. He was no match for the Toronto bats. They crushed him.

Once, as the Globe remembered, Crane's name "inspired dread among all other players... But that is but a hazy memory. The once mighty name has lost its magic. It no longer inspires dread and fear... He essayed to pitch for Springfield against Toronto over the Don yesterday afternoon, and he made a sorry exhibition of himself... It would be painful to go into the details of the game." Soon, Springfield gave up on him too.

Finished as a player, Crane tried to find work as an umpire. But even that was a failure. "Crane," the Globe reported, "is said to be a way off in his judgment on balls and strikes." The newspapers blamed it on whisky. At 34 years old, he was unemployed and alcoholic, his wife and child had left him, he was depressed.

Rochester in the 1890s
"Crane sank deeper into the bottle as his prospects and money quickly ran out," SABR recalls. "He became despondent, freely talking about his troubles and the grim outlook for his future wherever he went."

Cannonball Crane wouldn't live to see the end of that 1896 season. On a Saturday in mid-September — almost nine years to the day since his glorious double-header in Toronto — he spent the afternoon getting drunk in his room at the Congress Hall hotel in Rochester. He hadn't paid his bill in ages. When he went downstairs, the owner warned him that if he didn't fork over the $70 he owed, he would be forced to give up his room. Crane promised to settle his bill. And then he headed back upstairs.

There was a bottle of chloral waiting for him.

The next morning, the maid couldn't open the door. A bellboy climbed up to peer through the transom. Crane was laid out on his bed. Dead. The official coroner's report described it as an accidental overdose. But everyone assumed it was suicide.

The next morning, he was remembered on the front page of the Toronto newspapers. His life had come to a tragic end, but thanks to those two games in the thick of a pennant race one Saturday afternoon in September, Cannonball Crane had written his name into the history of our city. He'd become an indelible part of Toronto sports lore, mentioned over and over again in our newspapers over the course of the next century — remembered fondly for bringing our city our very first baseball championship.

Next summer — in 2016, nearly 130 years since the Torontos won that pennant — a new plaque will be unveiled on the spot where Sunlight Park once stood. It will include a photo of Cannonball Crane, an ace at the height of his powers. The name of our city's first big baseball star will live in glory on Queen Street once again.

-----

You can my full, illustrated history of baseball in Toronto here. I've also written more about the 1887 Toronto Baseball Club here, plus the greatest second baseman in Toronto (who isn't who you think it is) here, Babe Ruth's first home run here, and Joe Carter's World Series-winning dream here,

Chris Bateman tells the story of Cannonball Crane and the Torontos over at blogTO here — he's also how I know a new plaque is on the way. The Society for American Baseball Research shares Crane's story here. You can find his Major League stats on Baseball Reference here

You can learn a little more about Spalding's World Tour here and here, or read a whole book about it: find it at the Toronto Public Library here or buy it here

I've also stumbled across Charles Anthony Joyce's PhD thesis about sports and class in Toronto in the middle of the 1800s. I haven't read it yet, but you'll find it in PDF form here.





A version of this story will appear in
The Toronto Book of the Dead

Coming September 2017 from Dundurn Press
Available for pre-order now

This post is related to dream
42 The Pennant
Ned "Cannonball" Crane, 1887