The Taylor Girls’ Toronto

Banner image is of the Toronto skyline at night, between 1976 and 1994. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives.

It has been far too long since I last wrote here and so much has changed in that time that it’s hard to know where to begin.  Of course, it would be impossible to write a word here without mention of COVID-19 which, ages ago now, seemed a story happening elsewhere but has since stretched across the world, leaving its devastating mark on every community.

My family too has changed.  We have suffered a tremendous blow – my dear sister Corrina has died.  She had been unwell, and then early this year they found she had cancer.  Still, we were hopeful.  But then she contracted an infection, pneumonia set in quickly and she was unable to fight it.  She passed late in the evening of May 29th.

Though COVID-19 was not a factor, its long shadow meant we could not be with her at the end and so, for this reason, I can’t help but feel we are also a casualty of this grisly virus.

Corrina
Corrina in Sacramento, California, a few years ago.

Well, as you’ve likely gathered, this will be quite a different sort of post for this site.  Rather than take you back through the muddy, poorly paved Toronto streets of long ago, as I would normally, I’d instead like to share a more recent history of the city.  That is, the one I shared with my sisters, Corrina and Lenora.  

The Taylor Girls Three – Corrina on the left, Lenora on the right and yours truly, the dumpling in the middle.  As you can tell, little girl fashion of the time was heavily influenced by Holly Hobbie and Little House on the Prairie.

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As the youngest, I’m so grateful to have had two older sisters cart me around town.  Now this may be sentiment speaking but it seems to me that our childhood was special – at least, we certainly seem to have had a much longer leash than most kids do today.  I mean, I remember being about 8 years old – which would make Corrina 12 – and taking the subway to the Eaton Centre just to ride the elevators.  When the security guards tired of watching us go up and down and suggested we move along, we’d amble over to the Panhandler toy store just to look at the stuffed Gund dolls.  Then, our days’ work done, we’d head back home.

Buildings - Dome & Eaton Centre. - 1979-1991
The Eaton Centre, sometime between ’79 and ’91. On the right are the elevators we used to joy-ride as kids. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives.

Home for us was the Junction Triangle, which I’ve written about before here. Ringed by rails, the area began as a heavily industrial one. When the great developer Simeon Heman Janes laid out his residential plan for the area in the late 1890s, it still was one and would continue to be so for quite some time. And so it was when our parents bought our house on Perth in the late 1970s. Just the same, there was a nice bit of greening in the area – we had Perth Park next to our elementary school, and Campbell Park with its sweet ice rink a couple streets over. But for us girls, there was nothing quite like the fun and adventure to be had in exploring the Solway scrap metal yard at the end of Ernest Ave.

Corrina was absolutely fearless, easily the bravest of us girls, and would climb into Solway’s enormous dumpsters looking for things to play with without the slightest hesitation. The clearest memory I have of this time is Corrina pulling out a car tire, putting me in the centre of it and rolling me down the alley. I know, that sounds like something terribly old-timey – and I suppose it kind of is, now – but it really was all the entertainment we needed.

The former Solway site is now home to a 79-unit development called Heritage Towns on the Trail.
The former Solway site is now home to a 79-unit development called Heritage Towns on the Trail.

A funny detail about those scrap yard adventures is that I was always barefoot. For some reason even I’m not sure of, no one could get me to wear shoes in the summer, and so I was always hot-footing it around the neighbourhood. Well, I’m here to tell you that scrap metal yards aren’t the safe, cushy places you might imagine. As a consequence, I stepped on a lot of rusty nails in my time. So many in fact that I think I might very well hold some kind of record for nail extractions at St. Joseph’s.

Of course, the rest of the neighbourhood didn’t share our love of the scrap yard – though I understand that some local artists enjoyed canvassing it for interesting bits and pieces. During the day it was always exceedingly busy, with enormous semi trucks constantly going in and out. Certainly an odd and unwelcome sight in any residential area. Despite years of protest from the neighbourhood, Solway would continue its operations on Ernest Ave deep into 2012, before finally being demolished in 2013. Remarkably, before the wrecking ball came, it was discovered the old yard was sitting on 1,107 wartime UXOs – that’s “unexploded explosive ordnance” to you and me. According to a Toronto Star account at the time, the devices ranged from mortar bodies to rockets. Makes me kind of happy now that I only found the rusty nails.

Another early, safer amusement was hitting the video arcades.  Though I was not particularly interested in them myself, I’d happily tag along with Corrina to see how she fared – and also because I just didn’t have a lot going on.  With quarters found who knows where (cough, mom’s purse) she would spend hours in the little arcade room built off to the side of the neighbourhood corner store.  

Garacci’s corner store at Perth and Wallace. That little shed off to the side housed a small arcade where Corrina put in a lot of time. The arcade is gone and the store’s been under new ownership for decades, but it’s still Garacci’s to my family. Photo from 2005, courtesy of City of Toronto Archives.

Occasionally, though, Corrina would collect enough coins to head downtown to Yonge St which, at the time, was riddled with proper arcades.  Along for the ride, of course, I would follow her from game to game, leaning against the warm machines, feeling very cool and urbane for being downtown.

The Funland (not U Land) Arcade on Yonge, much beloved by Corrina and scores of other video game-crazed kids, closed in 2008. Photo from between 1977 – 1983, courtesy of City of Toronto Archives.

While we may not have shared a love of video games, one thing we all enjoyed was roller-skating. Now, when I say roller-skating, I mean the classic white boot- red wheels skates – not rollerblades, which came a bit later and we never really got into. While our neighbourhood sidewalks were witness to much of our brilliance on wheels, we’d occasionally get to go to a real rink. And in 1980s Toronto, this meant The Terrace.

The copy here reads like a prompt for under-going hypnosis. “You park indoors. You enter a huge room. The ceiling is colourful, the lighting indirect. The mood is stimulating.” 1960s ad from the Globe and Mail.

Located at Dundas and Mutual Sts, the Terrace we knew was a re-vamp of the Mutual St Arena, which had been built as a sporting and entertainment venue by Sir Henry Pellatt in 1912. For its grand opening that year, a music festival was held featuring some of the greatest vocalists of the period, including Marcella Sembrich, Alice Nielsen and Olive Fremstad. In later years, Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra and Hank Williams Sr would also appear on its stage. This being a hockey town, of course, the arena’s perhaps best remembered as the first home of the Maple Leafs. From 1917 to 1931 the team played at the arena before moving to its own, purpose-built venue Maple Leaf Gardens.

In 1962, a $3 million renovation put the emphasis on curling and skating and transformed the space greatly. Rechristened as The Terrace, it would, at the time, be heralded as the second largest curling club in the world.

“Gentlemen, grab a martini – ladies, check your babies.” From the Globe and Mail, August 9, 1962.

Somewhere along the way, however, the focus shifted to roller-skating and it’s in this form that it’s best remembered today.

In 1989, when it was announced that The Terrace would be closing, there was a huge public outpouring of grief from generations of Torontonians. You can watch a video of the grand finale skate here, complete with teens sobbing on each others’ shoulders.

For all this rich history, I wish I could tell you that I remember the beloved old roller rink in great detail. Sadly, however, beyond lacing up and going round and round, my memories are hazy.

But there is one spot in this city whose details I can recall with crystal clear clarity and that is the former Ukrainian Hall on Bathurst, where we girls did gymnastics every Saturday.

The Ukrainian Hall is the large building just across from where the men are working. Photo May 22, 1935. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

Built in 1928, the hall was first known as the Ukrainian Labor Temple. With its large open areas on the first floor and basement, it was well-built for gatherings, meetings and classes. But its greatest feature was its large stage fit for lavish theatrical productions.

Today, the former Ukrainian Hall is home to the Ching Kwok Buddhist Temple, and its past life and history is likely unfamiliar to most Torontonians. But there was a time when it was regularly in the news and enjoyed a certain reknown.

From The Globe, November 4th, 1932.

Despite garnering regular heat of the type noted above, the Ukrainian Hall would endure, despite continued attempts to shut it down – some of which were far more serious than others.

From The Globe and Mail, October 9th, 1950.
From The Toronto Daily Star, October 10th, 1950.

Of course, by the time my sisters and I came to frequent the Ukrainian Hall, there was no hint of this turbulent past. Every Saturday morning, for nearly a decade, we’d pull on our leotards and bundle into the car, heading to 300 Bathurst for our weekly gymnastics class.

The hall itself was a source of endless delight for us girls. There were countless nooks and crannies to explore – filled with weird old-timey things which fired our imagination. At the back of the hall, stairs below the stage area led to a long, shadowy dressing room. This, to me, was a place of wonder. Along one wall of the wood floored room sat a row of old vanity tables. How I loved to sit at them and look through the drawers. Inside many were tiny tubs of pancake stage make-up which smelled delicious to my young nose – like rose oil, vanilla and talc. I don’t know how long they’d be forgotten there but they seemed like relics from an entirely different century to me. Farther back and deeper into the shadows was an enormous closet with a massive wooden door filled with heavy, ornate costumes – all satins, wools, ribbons and embroidery.

As for our gymnastics training, i.e. the actual reason we were there, we would each achieve varying degrees of success. I managed difficult feats like front-rolls, cartwheels and round-offs – though what I really longed for was fame on the uneven bars. (A pursuit which would prove to be short-lived.) Lenora, who flourished especially in the dance and ribbon routines, would eventually become an instructor to the younger kids. But Corrina – as in all things – was the true dynamo. She blew us all out of the water. She could do aerials on a dime and tumble across a room like she was floating on air. And, I kid you not, she continued to be able to do so even in recent years – when the very idea of doing a bridge these days makes me wince.

Now, you can’t mosey down Memory Lane without revisiting the excitement of a childhood birthday party.

Celebrating Corrina’s birthday at my grandparents’ home in California, 1980s. That’s Corrina standing on the chair in her bathing suit. I’m next to her, shirtless and sucking my party horn like it’s a Meerschaum pipe I’m trying to light.

Like many kids who grew up in Toronto from the ’70s to the ’90s, a banner birthday was one spent at either the Organ Grinder or Old Spaghetti Factory restaurants on The Esplanade. These two neighbouring restaurants had much in common – and for many years that even included ownership.

Both restaurants were large spaces with menus that catered to kids’ palates – oodles of non-remarkable pasta and platters of sizzling pizza. Like all family restaurants of the era, they both featured lots of dark wood, heavy carpeting in busy patterns and bowls of pillow mints at the hostess stations. But their biggest draw was their kinda bonkers decor.

The Old Spaghetti Factory, harnessing an Old Curiosity Shop-vibe has walls chock-a-block with antiques and curios but is especially famed for its tables set within a century-old carousel and a Toronto Railway Co streetcar.

A few years back, feeling quite sentimental, I opted to have my birthday dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory – or The Old S G Factor, as its fashioned above.
I’m forever a sucker for a gumball machine – which accounts for my ridiculously gleeful expression here (I hope.)

The Organ Grinder next door had a similar energy except that the focus was on music and oddball musical gadgets. Throughout the room were countless bells, whistles, sirens, horns, tambourines, drums, a player piano and god knows what else – all of which were controlled by the organist who sat at the front of the room, leading the charge on a 1929 Wurlitzer outfitted with over 1000 pipes. In addition to the joyous cacaphony were flashing lights that really appealed to the small child letting loose for the first time, but probably made more than one parent fear they’d trip a synapse. (If any of this is difficult to envision, there’s a great video from the ’90s which has preserved the experience.)

A note accompanying this review says the price listed at the end represents a dinner for two WITH a bottle of wine. 12 bucks – man, oh man. From the Globe and Mail, January 24, 1979.

Funny enough, a detail which had escaped me until now is that both the Organ Grinder and Old Spaghetti Factory belonged to chains with locations in Canada and the U.S. This I find incredible and, frankly, not a little unsettling. For so long, the memory of either has been a touchstone for kids of our generation. So the idea that this could be happening in Vancouver or Portland or wherever? Gah. That practically puts us in Chuck E. Cheese territory, and that is not right.

Whew … got myself a bit het up there, sorry.

Happily, the Spaghetti Factory still exists while, sadly, the Organ Grinder has retreated into the sands of time. Its doors closed in 1996 and the space is now home to the Bier Markt.

The Old Spaghetti Factory and Organ Grinder beyond, in 1975. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives.

Childhood summers, of course, had a magic all their own.  I’ve written before of going to the CNE with Corrina and the Midway ride, The Zipper, which we both loved so much (and then came to fear like nothing else.)  But what I didn’t mention was that one summer, years later, we worked there together.  Corrina had done it the year before and enjoyed it so much that she talked me into signing up with her the following summer.  

For those two and a half weeks, we’d wake at dawn and walk to Dundas West Station in the chilly half-light to catch the Ex-Express to the CNE grounds. Once there, we’d be given our float for the day before being loaded onto the golf carts which would take us to the gates where we sold tickets. Corrina and I never worked the same gate, but sometimes she’d walk over to see me while on her break. Other times, we’d just pass each other on golf carts and wave merrily at one another.

One of my favourite gates to work was the Princes’ Gates – a landmark I believe all Torontonians have a soft spot for.  But what many may not know is that there are bathrooms in those columns.  The Prince of Wales Gate, May 2nd, 1928. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

Corrina was right, of course – working at the Ex was a lot of fun and a tremendous experience because you get the chance to see it in a whole new, special light.  You share in the stories of new friends who work the other staples of the fair – the food trucks, the midway games, the CNE shuttle. (From the latter I learned that, despite regular warnings, people always jump off while it’s moving. And always fall flat on their faces.) You aren’t visiting it, you’re part of it. You soak up the festive atmosphere while seeing the inner workings. And I’m forever grateful to my sister for talking me into it and having that experience.

Well, believe it or not, I’ve been writing this post since summer but for one reason or another have found it difficult to finish. And now here we are on the cusp of Christmas – another occasion steeped in wonderful memories. Ice skating at Nathan Phillips Square, enjoying the window displays at Simpson’s, listening to Christmas carols together in the darkness of our room on Christmas Eve…

Sigh …

It strikes me that I could go on and on here. There are so many more memories to share of the places we loved. I can almost feel Corrina at my side, bristling with her excited energy, urging me to tell you of other favourites like the Mr. Greenjeans restaurant and store, or the old Eaton Centre movie theatre where we would do cartwheels down the aisles. So many to be remembered, so many now gone – but they will always remain cherished and loved. They live on in us – as does our Corrina.

And now, I think I will leave you with this photo taken one Christmas some years ago. Corrina and I had tried so hard to get just one good photo together, but each was so terrible that we eventually came undone and fell apart laughing. Though Corrina’s face is partially hidden and I look clownish, this is now my favourite photo of us. It is the essence of us in one very jolly, Christmas-y nutshell.

27 thoughts on “The Taylor Girls’ Toronto

  1. Katherine,
    Such a sad post but coming from you as with all of our favourite Gal’s, wonderful, whimsical, and packed with great memories of Toronto’s past. Corinna, on her roller skates, with the angels in a different neighbourhood must love reading it.
    All the best with everything, so pleased that One Gal K Taylor is back,
    Richard L

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Richard! It’s been a tough one to write but I’m so, so pleased you liked it. Corrina would be especially happy about that because so many of these things were her idea. And how I love the idea of her scooting around up there on her skates – being the wonder she always was.
      As ever, thank you for the kind words, encouragement and support. They mean a lot to me.
      All the best,
      Katherine

      Like

    1. Thank you so much, Kay – that really means a lot to me and I’m so glad to hear this brought back memories for you too.
      Hope you’re keeping well. Take care and all the very best for the holidays and New Year.
      Katherine

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  2. I am so sorry for your loss … my heart breaks for you. I have missed reading your words and I savored every word of this … and felt your love for your sister so deeply in each memory you shared. It was just beautiful. Beautiful. I am closing my eyes and sending you a hug through the ether. I’m not sure that works, but just in case it does …

    (Oh, and when I was young, we would take road trips to Winnipeg that would always end with dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and, I thought it was just a Winnipeg thing. So, the jokes on both of us.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dearest Bloggess. I struggled with this one but find it has been a comfort to tell our tales – and it means so much to me that you share in them. And I’m so grateful for my ether-hug! I do feel it and it is a balm.
      Oh and how I LOVE that you went to an Old Spaghetti Factory in Winnipeg(!) See? I didn’t even know THEY had one. Why those tricky, tricky so-and-sos ….
      Sending big hugs to you,
      Katherine

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  3. Such beautiful childhood memories of special corners of a special city that only those who called it home could know. How wonderful and so beautifully written. What a lovely tribute. Sisters forever friends for always xo Merry Christmas to the Taylor girls three wherever they may be!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Catherine thank you so much for writing this. I was so very sorry to hear of your families loss. Your memories are amazing and brought me back to those amazing times. I so loved spending time at your house with all of you and loved the Ukrainian center as much as you did. Your family was truly special to me and a large part of my childhood.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Susan. I’m so glad we share so many happy memories. You and your family were a big part of our lives too! I well remember you at gymnastics and tagging along when Corrina would visit you. I always thought you were both so cool.
      Thank you so much in sharing in these memories of Corrina and our childhood.

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  5. Ah what a lovely post. The Taylor girls showed me so much as a kid and so many of your memories I share. Morning gymnastics with the motley crew at the Temple, Eaton Centre elevator adventures, Corrina embarrassing us Leibo boys with her physical prowess and sharp as a laser wit! I do remember too being entirely too scared to hit the scrap yard.
    This Christmas will be a hard one for so many. Thinking about the girls and all the Taylors. Love to the whole family!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Jacob, thank you! It really is a tremendous comfort that we share these memories. Man, I bet I could write a book on what our whole brood got up to as kids. I treasure each and every memory and I have so much love for you all. Sending my best to you and the family, today and always.

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  6. I absolutely LOVE this hun! A beautiful tribute to your wonderful, amazing sister, and the life you had with her and your family growing up in Toronto was and is,
    and always will be precious treasure ❤ wishing you Christmas Blessings🎄♥️ and big bug hugs💋, pam villadar♥️

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Katherine, I’m so sorry to hear of your loss – this is certainly devastating during an already-complicated and difficult year.

    It’s a pleasure to ‘hear’ your voice again as you bring to life the places of your childhood…and though I can only imagine how difficult it was to put this together, you’ve written a very special and lasting tribute to Corrina and the memories you shared together in your beloved city – complete with your trademark humour and sensitivity. Thank you for sharing this with your readers.

    You’ll be in my thoughts this holiday season and as we bring in another new year.
    Can’t wait to read more from you in 2021!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Vanessa, this means a lot to me – thank you so much. It’s so nice to know you’re there and feel your support and warm cheer. This really was a tough one to put together and I was unsure the whole way, so I’m very glad if it neared the mark.
      Wishing you and your family all the very best this Christmas, New Year and always.
      Katherine

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a beautiful tribute to your sister, and to your shared childhood in Toronto. As the youngest of three sisters myself, and now living in the neighbourhood you write about so well, I was very moved to read this. Thank you for sharing your memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Kristen – I’m so glad to have you to share them with. And what a treat to hear we’re both the youngest of three girls. I like to think that’s a very special thing (don’t know why older sisters don’t always agree.) It’s also wonderful that as a neighbour you know these spots well. That does my heart good.
      Thank you again for your kind words.
      Wishing you and the family a wonderful Christmas and New Year.
      Katherine

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you so much for delightful reading once more. I also lost a brother, a fair bit younger and quickly. I sit here tonight and miss his Christmas Day call from Banff. Tomorrow we will just get on with it again. Stay safe and thank you for sharing.
    Catherine

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so pleased you enjoyed this post – but I am very sorry to hear of the loss of your brother. I hope you are able to take some comfort in sweet memories.
      Take care and be well – and may the new year bring brighter days.
      Katherine

      Like

  10. I’m so glad you’re back; sad to learn why you were absent. I’m so sorry for your loss. (Also the youngest of three sisters here!)

    If you ever feel like a park hangout, drop me a line. I do hope this nightmare that we’re all going through is over soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. Lovely to hear you’re also the youngest of three. I like to think that makes us very special 🙂 And what a lovely suggestion – I will definitely let you know. Thank you for the offer!
      Hope you’re keeping well and safe.
      Katherine

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  11. I’m absolutely thrilled to see you back again, but I’m sorry it’s under such sad circumstances. I’m so sorry for your loss, especially during such a difficult year. But I really enjoyed reading your memories, and I love the photo of the two of you – the post is a lovely tribute to your sister!

    On a lighter note, The Spaghetti Factory reminds me very much of a place with a similarly unappealing industrial name that I used to visit in Akron as a child – The Spaghetti Warehouse. It was San Francisco themed, with a trolley car inside, and they served complimentary sourdough bread – like any good hipster, I love an artisan sourdough, but this bread was not that. It was basically like a cheap white bread but with a really intensely sour taste (like licking a lemon, much more sour than sourdough should be!), and it tasted really gross with pasta (which was also not good there). Sounds like your spaghetti establishment is associated with much happier memories!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, thank you – that really means a lot to me. Honestly, I was a bit unsure about putting this out there but at the same time couldn’t imagine not doing it. When I look through my old posts, Corrina’s always there somewhere – there’s always some mention of us and our antics – and so it was cathartic to write about her specifically.

      Ha! That’s so funny about the Spaghetti Factory name – I hadn’t thought about how unappetizing it is until you mentioned it. Ugh, and that Spaghetti Warehouse sourdough sounds heinous. How on earth did they manage to pass that off? Or even produce it? Gah, that verges on criminal. As for the fare at the Old Spaghetti Factory, I had a rude awakening when I went back a few years ago for my birthday – that is not good food. Great atmosphere, yes – food, no.

      Liked by 1 person

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