Angus Dallas

Banner photo is of King St W, west of Spadina in 2015.  Photo by K Taylor.

As you walk along the south side of King St., west past Spadina, you may notice a dip mid-block where the taller buildings fall away and one low building squats, occupying a rather large piece of real estate.  While I have no particular interest in the building itself (and certainly not the slick, scenester-infused restaurant that lives in it), I am fascinated by a former resident of the piece of King it sits on.

What today is a posh restaurant – one which describes itself as “laced with drama” – was once the front yard of a mighty interesting character named Angus Dallas.   His name alone fills me with a kind of quiet awe.

By the time he moved into a grand home on this lot in 1861, Angus Dallas was 59 years old and a very successful wooden ware dealer.  For many years he’d sold his wares from a large building emblazoned with his name in the heart of the city, on King near Yonge St.

Dallas Building King west of Yonge 1856 or 57
Angus Dallas’ Wooden Ware store, at King near Yonge, is visible on the far right. 1856/57. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

An early advertisement for his wares.

I don’t know much about the wooden ware racket, but it seems to me that stocking fireworks alongside the wood stuff was taking a bit of a gamble. From the Toronto City Directory, 1850-51

Anyhow, such was his success that he also owned the building next door, which he transferred to the remarkable George Brown in the early 1850s to be used as the new home of The Globe newspaper.   Here we see it as it appeared in 1887.

There is much that I love about this photograph: the streetlamp with the stenciled lettering, the ornate arch and windows of the C. and J. Allen building next door, the anchors that capped the tie rods above the Globe’s second storey, the ghost that is streaking past… Globe Building, south side of King W., near Jordan St., 1853 – 1864.  Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Round about now you might be wondering why I find Angus Dallas such an interesting character.  Well, the thing is the man had some strong beliefs, which he wrote about.  A lot.  And he self-published pamphlets to tell everyone about them.

In 1855, Dallas wrote a pamphlet titled “The Common School System, Its Principle, Operation and Results.”  In it he discusses his impression of the public school system, which at that point had only been around for seven years.  The pamphlet, 36 pages long, is a great example of the belief “why use one word when ten will do.”  So I’ll just summarize it here: he was against it.

So great was his dislike of the public school system, and so roundly were his protests ignored, that he wrote another three pamphlets on the subject.  One of these was actually a collection of ten letters he had written to John A. Macdonald, then the Attorney General, on the subject.  Alas, the only thing these pamphlets succeeded in doing was frustrating and bemusing the Department of Education.   Oh, and irritating a reviewer at Rose-Belford’s Canadian Review who wrote “Mr. Dallas has allowed himself to become so saturated with the teachings of his favourite Plato as to be often unintelligible to the many.  He has a way, too, of using words in a sense peculiar to himself.”

One of the things which upset Dallas most about the public school system was that it was not mandatory for teachers to be fluent in Greek and Latin.  So it was perhaps with a view to remedying this that he wrote the jaunty book “Latin language and grammar adapted to the capacities of children and for the use of parents in the work of home education.”   … You know, I myself once took Latin and recall enjoying it but reading Angus Dallas’ guide is like trying to climb a wall with your teeth.  Still, it was an incredible effort on his part.

In 1860, Dallas dropped the subject of education (temporarily) and swung out in a whole different direction.  Though still knee-deep in wooden wares, he published a book called “Outlines of Chemico-Hygiene and Medicine; or The Application of Chemical Results to the Preservation of Health, and Cure of Disease.”  I don’t know that the man had any science or medical background whatsoever, but he sure knew how to write a snappy title.   And I hope he knew something at least about so-called “chemico-hygiene” as he pursued it as a full-time gig after retiring from his career in retail.

Angus Dallas Naturalist Chemico-Hygienist 1880
Toronto City Directory Ad, 1880

As best as I can tell from his, er, interesting writing on the subject, being a chemico-hygienist was something akin to being a naturopath today – just a lot more wordy.  In any case, whatever it was he was doing he did from his home on King St. till his death in 1885.

It may have pleased him to know that after his death his home would become a private school, run by his widow Jane and daughter Mary.  Unfortunately, I don’t think his Latin guide was used much – it was strictly a music school.

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