Saturday, December 28, 2013

The bloody story of "the mad dog of Jarvis Street"

toronto mickey mcdonaldI've held on to this picture for some time, unsure what to do with it. I'm not sure how I first came across it in the Toronto Telegram archives but it's always stuck in my mind.
The picture shows a suited Mickey McDonald with his arm around his wife, Margaret, or "Kitty Cat," but tells nothing of the man's violent history as the "the mad dog of Jarvis Street."
toronto mickey mcdonaldDonald "Mickey" McDonald first appeared in print when he was sentenced to two years in Kingston Penitentiary with four other men for his part in the gangland assault and robbery of James C. Elder at his Church St. apartment in 1938.
After beating Elder, McDonald and his gang stole four cases of beer, seven bottles of whiskey, a bottle of gin, $2 in cash, and an overcoat. "Kitty Cat" McDonald drove the group to the apartment, but was discharged by the court.
During the trial, McDonald's father made a tearful plea for leniency, saying his son's behaviour was the result of alcohol addiction. He had only been out of jail four months for a previous offence before the old gang had pressured him to return, he said.
"Drink is his downfall. He wanted to avoid their company. Whatever he did that night it was not by deliberate choice. He took the liquor that night, but I am the man who paid for it a few days later."
John "Russel" Brown, a fellow gang member, echoed the observation. "I would like to say a word, too, not for myself but for McDonald, who was a victim of this whole thing."
In passing sentence, Judge Ian Macdonnell said he had to make an example of the group because of their habit for repeat offending. "Gang warfare, such as was never believed in Toronto, must go," he said.
toronto mickey mcdonaldBut that wasn't the end of it. A month later, police charged McDonald and his brother, Alex, with being part of a gang that murdered James Windsor, a North Toronto bookkeeper and nightclub owner, on Jan. 7, 1939.
"We're being framed," Mickey yelled during an acrimonious early court hearing. "We're being framed - kangerooed. That's what it is, framed - kangerooed."
"We can't get justice here," he yelled, shackled to his brother.
Later, two men would claim Mickey had admitted to the crime.
John R. Shea, a surprise witness who was himself awaiting trial on a bank robbery charge, said he had been drinking with the McDonald brothers at an apartment on Ossington Ave. when they had left "to do a job."
"I've just killed a man ... I've shot a man and he's dead," Mickey said on his return. "I shot him right here" and pointed to his stomach.
The jury rejected an alibi that suggested the pair were engaged in a separate robbery at the time of the murder and found Mickey guilty of delivering the fatal shot.
The judge sentenced him to death by hanging. Alex, however, was acquitted based on the same evidence.
toronto mickey mcdonaldBut there was still another twist in the tale. Mickey appealed the conviction and won based the jury's inconsistent behaviour. He was sent back to jail to serve the remainder of his assault and robbery conviction.
Shortly after his release, Mickey returned to his Jarvis St. territory where he and an accomplice beat and robbed an 86-year-old hotel doorman of his wristwatch. He was sent back to Kingston for two years and six months.
In 1944, McDonald received his longest prison sentence yet for taking part in an attempted hijack of $35,000 of liquor. The judge sentenced him to 15 years.
"He alone knows how many shakedowns he has attempted, how many people he has robbed, and how many he and his cohorts have beaten up," wrote The Globe and Mail after his release from prison in 1947.
No more was heard from McDonald after the hijacking conviction, at least in the newspapers, and we will certainly never know why he chose to write "remember" beneath that picture.
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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

That time Toronto built a giant bridge in record time

toronto leaside bridgeThe Leaside Viaduct doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves. Needlessly dwarfed in terms of fame and stature by its slightly older cousin to the south, the Prince Edward Viaduct, the Leaside bridge is worthy of celebration all by itself.
The simple, utilitarian superstructure and basic concrete piers were built in world record time using construction techniques never before seen in Canada. It took barely 10 months to connect the top of Pape Ave. with the burgeoning community of Leaside and its thrumming racetrack.
For comparison, the Bloor Viaduct, which was rewarded with an official royal title and featured as the central location for the popular novel In the Skin of a Lion, took almost five times as long to build.
toronto leaside bridgeThe need for a second road bridge to span the Don Valley became apparent in the late 1920s as the little neighbourhood of Leaside, a planned community partially laid out to plans by Frederick Gage Todd for the Canadian Northern Railway, was threatening to boom into a fully-fledged town.
Leaside is named for John Lea, an early farm owner in the area. "Leaside" was the name John's son, William, gave to a brick farmhouse he built on the property, which was then acres of apple orchard and pasture, in the 1850s. CNR entered the Leaside story in 1912 when William Lea sold part of his property to allow for a rail right of way an repair shops.
CNR upped the ante by promising an entire new model town for its Leaside workers. Early plans called for a tidy collection of winding residential streets and wider arterial avenues dotted with parks and commercial strips. As Jamie Bradburn notes over at Torontoist, the town was designed to be home to at least 30,000 residents with an eye to being annexed by the City of Toronto.
Unfortunately, it didn't entirely go to plan. Leaside was built partially to Todd's blueprint but the predicted population growth was slow to materialize. In 1927, more than 15 years after its creation, the Toronto Star was still predicting that Leaside would become "in the near future a thriving town of 25,000 population, not the product of a hysterical real estate boom, but the natural corollary of civic development."
One of the issues holding Leaside back was its location. The town was in a "condition of splendid isolation" on the far side of the Don Valley, largely cut off from major roads. If the fledgling town was to realize its potential, it needed a link to the outside world.
toronto leaside bridgeUnlike the Prince Edward Viaduct, the Leaside Viaduct didn't need a series of referendums to gain final approval. A link to the rabidly popular Thorncliffe Park Raceway, a mecca for thoroughbred and harness racing and the spiritual home of the Prince of Wales Stakes, was enough, it seems.
Construction began in earnest on Jan. 2, 1927, a few weeks after the official groundbreaking on Dec. 13, 1926. The earth on the south side of the valley was already frozen in an unyielding mass so a fire was burned over the ceremonial first patch of sod, which was turned by East York Reeve Robert Henry McGregor using a miniature silver shovel.
In the valley below, amid eight centimetres of snow, workmen were laying the tracks for the temporary railway that would haul concrete and metalwork for the new bridge. It was the first time a major construction project had commenced in Toronto with snow on the ground, and more in the forecast.
toronto leaside bridgeThe construction schedule was ambitions. Designer and lead engineer Frank Barber pledged to deliver the $150,000 concrete and steel structure, substantially different to the one initially approved by the local councils, within a year - an unprecedented timeframe.
Several new innovations made the goal achievable. Barber and his team would measure the dry ingredients for the concrete supports by weight, reducing waste, while the steel superstructure would be built between the concrete piers without scaffolds or temporary supports, borrowing a system used during construction of the Quebec Bridge.
Barber's teams worked 24 hours January to March through bitter cold, wind, and snow. Massive searchlights on the valley floor bathed the gigantic structure in brilliant light after dark. An average of 4 metres of concrete was laid every four hours, Roger Miller and Sons, the contractors, told the papers.
toronto leaside bridgeThe extreme haste had consequences. Three men died while working on the bridge, but Barber believed a few mishaps were to be expected. "This is not an usual number because you cannot get a gang of several hundred men working on a construction of such a size without an occasional accident happening," he said.
With few setbacks (apart from the occasional low-profile personal tragedy,) the Leaside Viaduct was complete by late October 1927, barely 10 months after the groundbreaking ceremony. The speed of construction set a world record and the final bill came in slightly over budget at $975,000 - about $13 million in today's money.
The Star called 427-metre long structure "one of the greatest links that has been forged for the development of the Queen City and suburbs in the last score of years." Leaside and East York decided to name the span, decorated with few architectural flourishes, Confederation Viaduct. It was 60 years since the founding of Canada.
At exactly 3 p.m. on Oct. 29, 1927, William Donald Ross, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, cut the ribbon strung across the entrance to the south side of the bridge using a pair of specially engraved scissors. The band of the Mississauga Horse played God Save the King and a score of dignitaries gave speeches.
toronto leaside bridgeThe first vehicles to cross the concrete surface were a TTC bus, the first on the new Pape route, and a bread wagon bound for Leaside. "The East York-Leaside Viaduct changes the whole strategical position of Leaside," The Star wrote. "It centralizes the town and puts it on one of the most important highways in the metropolitan district of Toronto."
The deck was widened to support six lanes of vehicle traffic in 1969 as the city mulled extending Leslie St. south across the bridge. A major facelift and heritage status arrived in 2004.
Like its cousin to the south, the height of the Leaside Viaduct has made it a magnet for suicide since at least the 1930s. It lacks the protection provided by the Luminous Veil on the Bloor Viaduct and as Graeme Bayliss writes in his excellent and powerful story on the subject in the Fall issue of Spacing, there are no plans to build a barrier.
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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Giant Mirvish + Gehry condos could be cut down to size

toronto mirvish gehryFrank Gehry's bold concept for three massive condos on King Street West could be trimmed through discussions with a new working group set up at yesterday's council meeting. Council voted down the current proposal for three high-rise residential towers, opting instead to establish a special 14-member group to prevent the project going to the Ontario Municipal Board.
The working group to be chaired by local councillor Adam Vaughan will consist of "prominent Torontonians" and help resolve concerns from local residents over height, density, and the impact its 2,709 units would have on the already strained public transit in the area.
In a presentation before city council, chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat showed a revised version of the three towers that had been reduced to "a more appropriate scale and more proportionate to the surroundings" - 60, 55 and 50 storeys from east to west, down from 82, 86 and, 84 storeys.
The alternative development concept (shown above,) which was not created with input from David Mirvish or Frank Gehry, also preserves the heritage warehouses currently on the Entertainment District site, buildings the original plans proposed to demolish.
toronto mirvish gehryAdam Vaughan told the Star the panel will seek "a way to say yes" to the proposal, which also includes an art gallery and a new campus for OCAD University. The group will hold at least one public meeting and will report back to council in March 2014.
Meanwhile, an OMB pre-hearing is scheduled for January.
What do you think of the scaled-down proposal? Do the towers propose an excessive level of density for King West?
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

5 things Toronto City Council accomplished in 2013

toronto city councilThe year is almost over and it's time to take stock of what city council has achieved over the last 12 months. While the focus of public attention was often on events outside the council chamber, there were several notable decisions that will (hopefully) be demonstrably beneficial when they come to fruition.
After the loss of the Jarvis St. bike lanes, Toronto cyclists look set to get proper safety infrastructure on Bloor and Dupont, plus a public storage and shower facility. The elephants of the Toronto Zoo are finally in a climate more befitting of their genes, and a decision was made on transit in Scarborough, though we will have to see whether it was the right one.
Oh, and reports of the death of BIXI turned out to be greatly exaggerated.
toronto bixiToronto's bike share system was stuck between a rock and hard place: Too localized to be financially viable, too broke to expand. To make matters worse, BIXI had bought its bicycles and docking stations with cash from a loan guaranteed by the city, meaning if the bike company defaulted taxpayers would have been on the hook.
Council discussed folding BIXI into the TTC and allowing developers to trade unwanted parking spaces for bike-share stations, but ultimately it was Toronto's high-tech toilets that saved the day. The city used cash saved from the cancellation of the latrines to buy the bike share scheme and make it part of the Toronto Parking Authority, pending a new operator. Just don't call it BIXI anymore.
toronto sam the record manThe big neon display that once adorned Toronto's most famous record store was a polarizing topic this year. Ryerson University promised to re-hang the sign on its new, ultra-modern Student Learning Centre in exchange for the planning permission necessary to build it in 2008. Then talks began to stall.
Ryerson said it wanted to keep the sign in storage while it explored "other preservation opportunities," including an interpretive plaque set into the Yonge St. sidewalk. Rather than see the sign linger in thousands of pieces, council voted to seek alternative locations for the giant electric records, one of which could be a disused city-owned building on the east side of Yonge-Dundas Square. The future of the sign brighter than it has been in a while.
toronto zoo elephantsIn May 2011 the three remaining Toronto Zoo elephants - Iringa, Toka and Thika - badly needed a new home. Ontario was no place for the majestic pachyderms and a city staff report recommended closing the exhibit where four other elephants had recently died unless millions could be found to improve the facilities.
The zoo board decided ship the long-faced trio to a new home and was actively looking at locations in the U.S. when a surprise council motion made the search moot - the animals were going to PAWS, a sanctuary in California. The political wrangling dragged on until this year when the three finally split town for a well-deserved retirement.
toronto bike lockThe parking garage under Nathan Phillips Square is the largest of its kind in Toronto - room for more than 2,000 cars, according to the Toronto Parking Authority. It might seem like a safe bet that some of those spaces could be used for a small secure bicycle parking facility without fuss, but you'd be wrong.
Doug Ford told council the shower facilities would become a "bathhouse" if allowed to proceed. "There is going to be hanky-panky. I guarantee it," he said. Council didn't agree - it approved the $1.2 million station by a vote of 26-5 in May. When it's finished there will be secure bike lockers and shower facilities available for a small fee to downtown commuters. How civilized.
toronto bloor bike laneUntil this year, the discussion around bike lanes on Bloor St. had been dormant since council decided to nix the Jarvis St. lanes. An incomplete environmental assessment into the possible impacts of building the east-west route was shelved and, despite annual events pushing for progress, the file lay silent.
In September, several councillors whose wards include Bloor St. signed a letter asking city staff to resume the EA. The rest of council eventually agreed and threw in an study of Dupont as well. Rob Ford called the idea "absolutely ridiculous," which when it comes to cycling is a sign something is worth doing.
scarborough rtThe Scarborough RT is dying. Built in the 1980s, the little white rapid transit cars are nearing the end of their working life and need replacing, but with what? The fully-funded LRT option was cheaper and could have reached more people desperately in need of proper transit but it wasn't a subway, dammit.
Doing what it does best with the transit file, city council decided to toss out the LRT and extend the Bloor-Danforth line to Scarborough Centre, the cost be damned (well, not quite - Rob Ford is busily trying to kill the 0.5 per cent property tax increase required to fund the line.) Opting for a subway has meant putting off construction for years and some nasty sunk costs but, hey, council made a transit-related decision for once, and that's worth a slow clap at least.
toronto rob fordTo borrow a Seinfeld line, Rob Ford was Godzilla and Toronto was thousands of fleeing Japanese. After months of incredible scandal involving allegations of drugs, gangs, crack videos, and blackmail, a deeply embarrassed council decided it needed to quarantine its toxic leader.
In a series of votes, all of Ford's non-statutory powers were transferred to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. The man elected to lead the city is now (mostly) a figurehead, though it remains to be seen how the rest of this term will play out. It wasn't pretty, but sanctions were necessary. It feels wrong to file this as an achievement but at least the debacle helped forge some unity.
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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Panel identifies downtown relief line as a top priority for Toronto transit

Although almost lost amid the clamour over their proposed gas tax, the expert panel behind new recommendations for funding transit has also given a shot in the arm to plans for prioritizing a relief subway line in downtown Toronto.

The line is considered controversial in some suburban parts of the city but has received strong backing from the TTC and the regional transit agency Metrolinx. And now, the group led by former Conference Board of Canada CEO Anne Golden has identified it as the top subway priority.

Their report Thursday labelled the downtown line among the three most important projects of the 11 being proposed by Metrolinx. Their ranking puts it ahead of a planned northward extension of the Yonge street subway, reversing the hierarchy established by Metrolinx.

“Right now, on the Yonge street subway, I know people who go north in order for them to go south,” Ms. Golden said Friday after a speech about the panel’s work to the Toronto Region Board of Trade, explaining how congestion is forcing some passengers to go out of their way.

“It’s very congested. So if you were to extend Yonge street right up to, into Vaughan … you’re just going to add to the congestion.”

Under Metrolinx’s plan, the Yonge subway extension would take six to nine years to complete, while the relief line downtown would take 11 years.

But the report issued by Ms. Golden’s panel makes clear that the relief line downtown, two-way service all day on GO and a light-rail transit line in Mississauga are the top priorities. These deliver the highest ridership, relieve the most congestion, connect to employment and “establish the needed backbone of a region-wide rapid transit network,” the report says.

Only after the relief line downtown is built can the Yonge subway north be extended, the report says, first to Steeles and then eventually the whole way to Richmond Hill Centre.

A Metrolinx spokeswoman said in an email that they are currently looking at ways to take the load off the Yonge line. “This study will examine both short term and long term solutions to relieving the Yonge subway as well as when additional ridership can be added through a northern extension,” Anne Marie Aikins wrote.

Ms. Golden’s panel was charged with finding ways to fund transit but chose also to offer suggestions on de-politicizing transit planning and ranking the proposed projects.

“We probably went further than the mandate by suggesting that these were the priority considerations … by accelerating the first three-quarters of it so that people could see the benefits and thereby embrace the need to raise the full cost that’s required,” Ms. Golden said.
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Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly against Mayor Rob Ford land-transfer tax cut

TORONTO - Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly disagrees with Mayor Rob Ford's push to cut the land transfer tax by 5%.

Ford announced earlier this week that he'll be pushing for a 5% cut to the tax as part of the city's 2014 budget process.

Budget Chief Frank Di Giorgio was at Ford's side for the announcement and committed to trying to make the cut, although he describes a more elaborate plan of tinkering with the tax that he argues would translate to a 5% cut.

Kelly -- who now holds most of the mayor's powers -- confirmed Thursday that he's opposed to Ford's bid to cut the tax.

"I support the land transfer tax," Kelly said. "What are you going to have to cut in order to facilitate those lost revenues?"

Councillor Doug Ford said the land transfer tax cut was possible.

"I totally disagree (with Kelly)," Councillor Ford said, arguing the land transfer tax will bring in $350 million this year when only $335 was budgeted.

The extra $15 million should be returned to taxpayers in the form of a cut in the tax rate, he said.
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Toronto Councillor Karen Stintz gives notice she's resigning as TTC chair

TORONTO - Councillor Karen Stintz is set to resign as chair of the Toronto Transit Commission effective Feb. 22, 2014, according to an e-mail the city clerk’s office sent out to councillors Friday.

The brief e-mail — forwarded to the Toronto Sun by a city councillor — is addressed to Mayor Rob Ford and members of council.

“Councillor Stintz is resigning the office of chair only,” it reads. “She is not resigning as a member of the Commission.”

The latest development comes just weeks after Stintz announced she was going to run for mayor in 2014, pitting her against Mayor Rob Ford.

Councillor Josh Matlow tweeted about the notice on Friday.

Stintz has “made an effort at being a good TTC chair,” he said Saturday.

“There were times where she demonstrated a genuine leadership but I am concerned over the past several months that she has put politics before evidence and I hope that the TTC returns to evidence-based transit planning,” Matlow said, who would like to revisit council’s decision to build a Scarborough subway extension, a project Stintz supported.

Stintz has previously suggested that councillor Josh Colle — who already sits on the transit board — could replace her.

She was not available for comment Saturday. A spokesman said she is busy with family over the weekend. She is also playing a cannon doll in Sunday’s performance of The Nutcracker.

The mayor’s brother is one person who can’t wait to see Stintz leave the position.

Councillor Doug Ford said he didn’t know about the city clerk’s notice, but that didn’t stop him from blasting Stintz.

“I look forward to her resignation because she’s done a terrible job as chair of the TTC,” Ford said.

She didn’t show “any leadership whatsoever based on what the people want,” he argued.

“Ultimately at the end of the day, the mayor did what the people elected him to do, not Karen Stintz, to build subways for the people of Scarborough,” he said.
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Campaign launched to helpToronto Mayor Rob Ford with legal costs

TORONTO - A campaign to raise cash to help Mayor Rob Ford fight the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale has popped up online.

The fundraising website featured a new campaign Friday called “Stop the Bullying! Help Pay Mayor Ford’s Legal Costs.”

The page was started by someone named Iain McLaren.

He did not respond to a request for comment.

“Mayor Rob Ford is facing yet another lawsuit at great expense to himself. Show your support for Mayor Ford and contribute to his legal costs today,” the campaign stated.

According to the short summary of the campaign posted online, the fundraising effort was being launched in response to Ford being served with a libel notice by Dale. The notice was delivered to Ford Thursday in response to comments he made about the Star reporter in an interview on Monday with Conrad Black.

The effort described itself as an “independent campaign run by Canadians like you who are against bullying and harassment.”

Indiegogo was the fundraising website used by in May to raise money o buy the video of Ford smoking crack cocaine. Although the campaign raised $200,000, organizers weren’t able to buy the video and Gawker ended up donating the funds to Toronto-based charities.

Dale confirmed Friday that the Star was paying his legal bills.

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Toronto transformed into a city of towers

Horizontal Toronto is now Vertical City. Where once it was low, it now stands tall. The skyline, which used to be flat, now soars.

Of course, not all Torontonians are thrilled with what has become of the place; their fear of heights is well documented. Indeed, whenever a proposal comes along for yet another tall tower; they line up to register their objections. Tall buildings block the view, they leave us in shadow, they create wind tunnels, they loom over short buildings, they . . . well, you get the idea.

And it’s true. Towers don’t belong in every part of the city. But the tower is here to stay and in Toronto, they are taller and more ubiquitous that ever. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Perhaps one of the issues that must be acknowledged and dealt with is architecture’s failure to conceive towers that soar in our hearts and minds as they do on our skyline.

The fact is that tall buildings speak to something very deep within us — the desire to rise above our Earth-bound roots and reach up into the heavens. Going back millennia, we have constructed towers. They took the form of pyramids, cathedrals, spires. Historically, they were associated with kings and deities — most of them long forgotten.

Today, however, we can each have our own piece of the sky. Technology and democracy have given us the means to live up there with the gods, flying glass panels notwithstanding.

Little wonder than that cities, corporations and even countries compete with one another by building as tall as they can. Examples abound: there’s Paris, with its Eiffel Tower; New York, with the Empire State Building; and now Dubai with the Burj Khalifa. The list goes on and on.

Toronto is no exception. When the CN Tower was erected in the 1970s, its official purpose was to serve as a communications tower. Fair enough. But everyone knows the real reason we built it was so that we, too, could brag about having the “world’s tallest free-standing structure” in our very own burg. Though it has since lost its place in the Guinness Book of World Records, the tower remains a symbol of Toronto, the one globally recognizable piece of architecture in this city.

In the meantime, the skyline of Toronto has been transformed by glass highrises. Originally, they were office towers. These days, they are mostly condos. Though the discussion about the energy efficiency of these skyscrapers has only just begun — and many believe these transparent boxes are an environmental disaster waiting to happen — there’s no question they appeal on a very basic level.

Let’s not forget, either, that towers have enabled countless thousands of people to move into the city. They have brought with them economic, social and cultural vitality that is the envy of cities around the world. For the first time since the 1970s, growth in Toronto now outpaces that of the surrounding suburbs. The business sector has discovered that choosing where to locate involves more than simply property taxes.

Yes, there are problems: poor construction, undersized units and poor architecture mean that many towers will age badly and cost vast sums to maintain. But compared to, say, that archetypical 1960s housing complex St. James Town, contemporary development tends to be better integrated into the city, better designed and clearly more livable.

Only time will tell, but — no pun intended — things are looking up for Toronto. Though we have been reluctant to embrace our destiny as a highrise city, that is also only a matter of time.
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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford: Daniel Dale tells us why he’s taking legal action

 Goodness. As the mayor likes to say: enough’s enough.

On Thursday I served Rob Ford with a libel notice , the first step in the process of pursuing a defamation lawsuit. I also served Vision TV, which twice broadcast Ford’s vile and defamatory remarks to Conrad Black even though their interview was filmed days before it aired.

It had become clear to me that, if I had done nothing, the mayor would make his smears some sort of political talking point. His comments to Black were no one-time slip; they seemed to be the first shots in a bewildering campaign against my good name. At a Tuesday news conference, he pointedly said he stands by “every word.” Today, he repeated many of his false claims on American radio.

No matter how much stress a legal battle might add to my personal and professional life, it is, simply, now necessary.

As my libel notice says , I’m asking Ford to immediately retract the false insinuation that I am a pedophile and all of his false statements about my conduct on May 2, 2012. I’m also asking Ford and Vision owner ZoomerMedia to apologize immediately “publicly, abjectly, unreservedly and completely.”

If Ford does not do so, we’ll see if he is willing to repeat his lies under penalty of perjury.

I did not want to do this. In fact, I so strongly did not want to do this that I had a whole announcement written about why I was going to take the high road and give Ford a pass for his defamation against me. I was going to make the announcement this morning.

I didn’t want to complicate my happy life. I’m a non-confrontational guy, and I just wanted to write articles and go home. I didn’t want to be goaded into a legal battle that could last a long time. The mayor very much deserved to be sued, I knew, but I thought I could do more good for the city by challenging him at city hall on policy than challenging him about me in a courtroom.

Ford’s persistence changed my mind.

I planned to say in my announcement that I would reconsider my decision if the mayor were to repeat his lies in the future. I woke up this morning to learn that he is already repeating them. On a Washington, D.C. sports radio show, he falsely said:

I was “looking over (his) fence taking pictures.” Never happened.
I was “taking pictures in the backyard,” Never happened; if it were true, police Det. Tricia Johnston told me , I would have been charged with a crime.
“He got caught. I got his phone. I got his camera. I had everything.” I had no camera, just a phone with a camera function. At my invitation, Det. Johnston went through the phone and found no pictures whatsoever from that night.
“He’s saying he wasn’t taking pictures, well, what are you doing in my backyard on cinderblocks ...” I never stood on anything but the grass of a public park, never even saw these blocks, was never in the backyard. I was on public land researching a public interest story about the mayor’s unusual application to buy public land.

Crucially, Ford added this: “When you’ve got young kids, that freaked me right out.” This isn’t quite as egregious as the comment he made to Black, but it brought renewed attention to his malicious and defamatory insinuation to Black that I have some sort of predatory interest in young children — that I am a pedophile.

I can’t tolerate it. I won’t tolerate it.

With the full support of the Star, I will stay on the city hall beat while pursuing this action. No reasonable person questioned the appropriateness of me continuing to cover Ford after he insinuated I was a pedophile, or after he confronted me menacingly and called police on me for standing in a park; my reporting will be no more ethically compromised by my effort to hold him to account for this insinuation about the incident than it was by the incident or the insinuation itself.

If a municipal politician had, hypothetically, clubbed me with a two-by-four, I told the police about it, and they charged him, I don’t think anyone could fairly argue that I needed to give up my job — I would simply be responding calmly and reasonably to unprompted aggression. Similarly, I don’t need to give up my job because I am responding calmly and reasonably to the mayor’s attempt to take a two-by-four to my reputation.

I can easily imagine the mayor and his brother attempting to turn the tables on the Star and calling for me to take a leave of absence, as councillors and much of the media had called for the mayor to do. I can easily imagine them accusing me of bias.

They will be wrong. I can, and will, continue to cover them with the utmost professionalism. I’m an exceptionally even-keeled person, and I just don’t want to think about this all the time as I go about doing the work I love. I will not let this affect my job. I will not be bullied off of my beat.

I can easily imagine the mayor and his brother alleging that this is another example of a Toronto Star vendetta against them. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Star’s most senior leaders made it clear to me from the start that this decision was entirely up to me. They were fully supportive after I emailed them last night to tell them I was going to let the matter drop.

One final word. Dozens of people, including people personally harmed by pedophilia, have offered me a total of thousands of dollars in donations for my legal fees. That’s remarkable.

I’m fortunate to work for an employer willing to go bat for its employees, and the Star will be covering my costs, so I’m good for cash. Perhaps all that offered money could be donated to an organization that assists victims of child abuse, and we can create some light out of all this dark nonsense? Maybe someone could ask the mayor if he would join us.

I donated last night to Boost , which recently opened a pioneering victims’ centre . There are other worthy organizations. Let’s elevate the conversation the mayor wants to stay in the mud.

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Four Toronto officers fired guns during Queen subway shooting, SIU says

Four police officers opened fire during an altercation in Queen subway station Friday night seriously injuring an 18-year-old man, according to the Special Investigations Unit.

Witnesses say the man was holding a gun and told police he had nothing left to live for.

“The man has some gunshot wounds and we have not been able to determine which officer has caused those injuries,” said lead SIU investigator Carm Piro Saturday afternoon.

The man was rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries around 8 p.m. Friday as panic broke out among transit users and Christmas shoppers at the nearby Eaton Centre.

The family of the man, whose last reported condition was stable, has not consented to the release of his name, the SIU said.

The SIU, called whenever police are involved in incidents that lead to serious injury or death, was notified of the shooting at 8:40 p.m.

Nine police officers responded to calls about a suspicious man with a weapon on a subway train, the SIU said.

As of Saturday afternoon, three of five officers who witnessed the shooting had been interviewed, said Piro.

The four officers who discharged their weapons had not yet agreed to speak to investigators, he said.

Piro said a “weapon” had been recovered at the subway station, which remained closed off until early Saturday afternoon, while four forensic investigators collected evidence.

Piro did not elaborate on the events leading up to the shooting.

Witnesses say the man was on board the train when it came to a stop at Queen station and it was announced that service had been suspended due to a passenger assistance alarm.

Christopher Godfrey was sitting close to the end of the train, his girlfriend napping on his shoulder.

As he woke up his girlfriend when the train stopped, he looked up and saw a tall, “scruffy” young man holding a black handgun pointed at the floor.

“I don’t want to hurt anyone, just get off the train,” the man told them, according to Godfrey.

“His demeanor was calm, almost sad … He didn’t raise his voice, he wasn’t pointing his weapon at anyone,” said Godfrey, who was sitting less than three metres away from the man at the time. The man looked “defeated” or “tired,” he said.

“At least to us, he was non-threatening save for his firearm.”

While the train was busy farther up, there were only a dozen people in their section at the end of the train, he said.

Their section of the platform was also almost empty, Godfrey said.

The couple quickly left the train — quietly informing others that there was a man with gun on the train as they did.

At the top of the stairs leaving the platform, they saw three or four police officers. Someone was telling them there was a man with a gun on the train.

“I interjected to tell them exactly where he was. They went running down the stairs, we moved up to the street where more police officers were already pulling up,” said Godfrey.

As the train remained stopped in the station, Jessica Wong says she boarded the second-last subway car.

As she waited, thinking that service would soon resume, she saw police officers in yellow vests walking by on the platform “like they were looking for something.”

“I turned my head, thinking it wasn't something serious and then I hear the policemen scream ‘put your hands where I can see them’ multiple times which caught everyone's attention,” she said.

She did not hear everything the man said in reply – but she says she did hear him say: "I don't have anything to live for anyways."

The police officers had their guns pointed at him, she said.

Wong and about 15 or 20 other people on the train quickly got off and walked towards the exit that leads to The Bay, she said.

She waited with a group of people there, thinking police had caught the man but then six or eight other officers arrived.

“They started directing us to leave the platform,” she said.

Fifteen seconds after she got a transfer that said 7:57 p.m. she heard between 10 and 15 gun shots, she said.

Then panic immediately broke out.

“That is when everyone started running up the stair case and escalators. People who were coming down were going back up, people were even running up and down escalators,” she said.

Yasar Nomey heard “14 or 15 shots” while on an escalator inside the Eaton Centre, near the mall entrance to the subway.

The new TTC trains are equipped with video cameras that may have captured much of the incident.

Lead investigator Piro said that some of the many civilian witnesses who have come forward also have videos.

Earlier this year, the SIU investigated the death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, shot and killed by police on an empty Dundas streetcar.

Yatim was shot eight times, then Tasered during the incident that bystanders captured on video.

Toronto police Const. James Forcillo has been charged with second-degree murder.

Yatim’s death has also sparked reviews of police use of force, and emphasized the need for ways to de-escalate situations.
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Friday, December 13, 2013

Queen subway shooting in Toronto leaves man in life-threatening condition

A man in his 20s has been rushed to hospital in life-threatening condition after a shooting at Queen subway station in downtown Toronto.

Toronto EMS said the man was taken to St. Michael's Hospital with a gunshot wound.
The shooting happened at approximately 8 p.m.

Toronto police said the Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has invoked its mandate.

The SIU is called in whenever police officers are involved in incidents in which someone has been seriously injured, dies or alleges sexual assault.

Subway service has been halted between Union and Bloor stations.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

When Toronto Had Road Tolls

toronto yonge tollPaying to use Highway 407 might seem like a drag, less so if you have one of those electronic windshield devices, but imagine having to cough up on every journey on every major road in or out of the city.
Prior to 1895, York County, the dissolved subregion of which Toronto was once the principal town, charged road users a fee for each passage through a series of gates set up at key positions around the city. The money was gathered by the county and used to maintain and expand the road network, which was often surfaced with planks and in need of constant upkeep.
Later, private companies were invited to bid on road building contracts and recoup construction costs through tolls, but this scheme also fell by the wayside as Toronto moved away from directly charging travellers.
This month marks the 113th anniversary of the original abolition of toll gates in Toronto.
toronto toll gatesIn the 1800s, toll booths were positioned on every major route out of town. At various times, little wooden cottages with a large gate blocking the road could be found at King and Yonge, Queen and Bathurst (then part of Dundas,) Dundas and Bloor, and Broadview and Danforth, to name a few.
Then as now, paying for passage was an unpopular proposition, especially for the drivers of delivery wagons visiting Fort York and the St. Lawrence Market, two major institutions in early Toronto. The cost varied by route, the type of load, the amount on the wagons, and the reason for passing.
At Dundas and Jane, it cost a penny to pass in a vehicle drawn by a single horse. Two horses pulling a carriage attracted a fee of a penny and a half. There were half penny tolls for herds of 20 or more animals or for a horse and rider. In other locations, weigh scales were used to measure the amount of material traveling in or out of the city.
Funeral processions, Sunday church goers, and military vehicles were exempt.
toronto toll gatesAs Adam Bunch writes in Spacing, disgruntled drivers would occasionally speed up and blow through (or over) the closed toll gate. Others, however, took the practice of avoiding fees much more seriously.
In 1895, while York County was still deciding whether to nix tolls entirely, a group of men burned down a set of wooden toll gates on Yonge Street. The city's response was to propose a set of fire-proof iron gates. "One councillor observed that corrugated iron would be the best because when toll-gates were abolished the place could be used as a public lavatory," the Toronto Star recorded.
toronto toll gatesDecades earlier, a lumber dealer reportedly found a more creative solution. The story goes that after a series of altercations with the operators of a toll gate at Queen and Ossington, some of them physical, an unnamed supplier to Fort York bought the land on the northeast corner of the intersection, directly opposite the gate.
On the property he laid out Rebecca Street, historian John Ross Robertson recalls in his book Landmarks, a short road that bypassed the pay point. The name came from the Rebeccaites, a group of 19th century Welsh rebels who, dressed as women, burned and demolished toll gates in Britain as symbols of unfair taxation.
Unfortunately, the story is a little dubious. There's evidence the road was only given its current name (it was called Dever's Lane first) after the toll booth had disappeared.
As it turned out, York County didn't have to rebuild the torched Yonge Street gates - the decision to permanently eliminate tolls came on December 30, 1895. Market fees were removed at the same time, allowing traders from outside the city to sell at the St. Lawrence Market with fewer levies.
toronto toll gatesOne of the city's few remaining toll booths - Tollgate #3 - still stands away from its original location close to Bathurst and Davenport. The house is of exceedingly rare plank construction - only one other is known to exist in Ontario - and has been picked up and moved several times, once spending time in storage at the TTC yard.
Amazingly, knowledge of the building's history was virtually unknown until 1993, when it was saved from destruction by developers and moved a final time to its present location.
It's now open as a museum at Bathurst and Davenport in Tollkeeper's Park.
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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What skating used to be like in Toronto

toronto ice skating historyTime to put away that fall gear - the skating season is officially upon us. Toronto's public rinks are now open for shinny and the first Bambi-like forays onto the hard stuff, despite a recent uptick in temperatures.
Unfortunately, there's no more skating on the Don or the Toronto Bay, as there was until around the 1930s and 40s - the temperatures don't get low enough and it was probably never all that safe anyway.
In winters of old, however, every patch of frozen water became prime real estate for skaters, even shallow puddles in vacant lots. Here's a look back at when skaters in Toronto looked like subjects in an L. S. Lowry painting.
toronto ice skatingSkaters on the Toronto Bay
toronto ice skatingA frozen Don River near Riverdale Park, looking south to Gerrard
toronto ice skatingSkaters at Christie Pits
toronto ice skatingFigure skaters put on an outdoor show
toronto ice skatingA group of girls take to the ice between 1910 and 1912
toronto ice skatingWomen lace up beside Grenadier Pond in High Park
toronto ice skatingSkaters on Grenadier Pond
toronto ice skatingNervous skaters cling together in High Park
toronto ice skatingMoss Park skating championships race
toronto ice skatingAnother view of a skate race at Moss Park
toronto ice skatingWomen on the ice at Riverdale Park
toronto ice skatingWide shot of a frozen Riverdale Park
toronto ice skatingA makeshift rink on a vacant lot
toronto ice skatingFigure skaters show off for the camera at Varsity Arena
toronto ice skatingHeavy winter coats on display at Varsity Arena
toronto ice skatingRinks at Christie Pits, then Willowvale Park.
toronto ice skatingSkaters at Withrow Park
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