Starr Gazing
   


Dr. Dan Starr
Retired Director of Athletics and Professor Emeritus of American History at Canisius College.
starr@canisius.edu

   

Torontonians to Buffalo
and
Buffalonians to Toronto

Zuke called me and asked, “Did you see that Buffalo News story on Toronto, that mammoth multicultural world class city?” “Yes,” I answered. I continued, “What a far cry from the Toronto we knew circa 1950!” We reminisced, in part for the benefit of our “After 75” friends and “After 50” readers too who may have remembrances of old Toronto.

Zuke said, “Do you remember our famous trip in the early 1950s to Toronto?” Of course I do. Six of us, including Klu and Shoes Bewick, stayed in a large suite, fit for royalty, on the second floor of the Hotel York. In fact, royalty from England had stayed there. It cost us about $25. What a great deal! We were in Toronto to take in the annual Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). That was a big deal back then, one of the few reasons for exuberant youth to venture 90 miles north. There wasn’t much else happening there at the time! It was quite a “WASPish” city; blue laws were vogue.

In those days, Torontonians and other Canadians came to Buffalo for excitement. Can the younger generation actually believe that? For those looking for the seamy side of life, Chippewa Street beckoned. The Albi Room provided some excitement, and even occasional violence. The House of Quinn, where you could swill down your Genesee beer while observing some of humanities’ downtrodden, was frequented by visitors from across the border as was the legendary Palace Burlesk.

Jazz-loving Torontonians found cool sounds on Washington Street at the Gaiety and Kit Kat Lounges and on Main Street at Jans. Later on Utica Street, the Royal Arms was the attraction, as was the Colored Musicians Club on Broadway. My pal Shoes treasured the time when he sat on a barstool next to legendary pianist and Toronto native Oscar Peterson.

Other Canadian visitors could be found shopping at Hengerers or possibly at a Bisons vs. Maple Leaf baseball game at Offermann Stadium. For dinner, Chez Ami was a popular destination.

Yes, Canadians came here on weekends. I think that the main reason Buffalonians visited Toronto was the CNE. It was kind of a giant Erie County Fair. Occasionally, local students, such as my cousin Tom, attended St. Michael’s College (part of the University of Toronto).

Zuker exclaimed, “Things have changed so much! It’s incredible.” Now Toronto has a huge festival every weekend, sometimes two or three. They occur all summer long and into the fall. The city is always humming. Simply stated, it has become a world-class city with a diverse and thriving population. Its suburbs are more populous than Buffalo. The multicultural scene and numbers of immigrants are unbelievable. To the Greeks of Danforth and the Irish of Cabbagetown have been added thousands of Italians and East Europeans and, more recently, large numbers of Asians, Africans, and Central and South Americans. In other words, the people who make Toronto their home are from all over this planet.

I mentioned that some of us octogenarians have observed developments over the past decades that led to the present-day megalopolis. A modern metro government was established in the 1950s. A few years later, a new city hall was built, circular in design, and considered an architectural gem. It immediately became a “must” on the visitors’ circuit. By the end of the century, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) was approved as the governing body for the city.

Canada marked its 100th birthday in 1967. The American Historical Association held its annual convention in Toronto. I attended with my colleague, Dave Costello. We sat in on a couple of scholarly sessions and celebrated at various cocktail parties.

The city continued to grow. An excellent subway system was constructed. Skyscrapers were built with the help of many Italian immigrants. The theater district became popular. The Royal Alexander (for those in the know, “The Royal Alex”) became a frequent destination for WNYers. Art galleries came on to the scene. The Ontario Science Center emerged as a “must” for field trips for Buffalo school children. The Toronto Zoo with its 250 acres (Buffalo’s has about 28, in comparison) opened and immediately became highly rated. The Toronto Center (or “Centre,” sorry) for the Arts opened 25 years ago and its magnificent venues have staged many world class productions.

Zuke interrupted, “Don’t forget major sports!” Yes, the Blue Jays joined Major League Baseball in 1977, where they had a slow start but won the World Series in 1992 and again in 1993. The Toronto Raptors joined the NBA in 1995, started slowly, but this past season hit the jackpot, winning the world crown as NBA champions. The fabulous announcer Jack Armstrong certainly played a part in the rise of the Raptors, as did Dave Cadeau of Sports, Rogers Radio 590, The Fan.

Then there is the Kensington Market. Its history dovetails with the growing, immigrant population in Toronto, cited in the News article. The Kensington Market is iconic. It has been around a long time, actually from the beginnings of the city around 1800. I first experienced the Market more than a half century ago and I was enthralled. Visitors continue to flock to it; natives love it.

Here is what Wikipedia says: “Kensington Market is a distinctive, multicultural neighbourhood…it was designated a national historic site in Canada…it is as much a legend as a district. It has probably been photographed more often than any other site in Toronto.” In the early 20th century, large numbers of East European Jewish immigrants set up shop there. After WW II, as the Jewish population moved north to the suburbs, other immigrants came in. I recall the Portuguese immigrants being very numerous in the 1960s, as were newcomers from the Caribbean. Chinese immigrants followed and their numbers soon almost overwhelmed the Kensington Market area. Later, other immigrants from Central America and Africa, as well as from the Mideast and Vietnam, became part of the scene. The food, the wares, and the atmosphere were, and are, simply awesome.

Today, the Kensington Market area is as vibrant as ever, as is Toronto. That once sleepy old city just 90 miles from Buffalo is now ranked number four in North America behind Mexico City, New York City, and Los Angeles in population.

 

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