Below is Chapter 13 of BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s.
Every Tuesday over the next few months, Beach Metro News will post up another chapter of the book on our website at https://beachmetro.com/ for readers to enjoy.
To see our earlier story on Black, and to read Chapter One, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/07/14/former-residents-book-looks-back-on-growing-up-in-the-beach-in-the-fifties/
Hard copies of the book BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s are now available locally at Book City on Queen Street East and Danforth Avenue and at The Great Escape Book Store on Kingston Road. For more information on the book or to order a copy, please contact Black at email@example.com
BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s
CHAPTER 13: ‘How The Garden Gate became The Goof’
By KEITH BLACK
When we entered the shop we were met by a multitude of marvellous smells; I loved it when my mother took me there. I was fascinated by the two large ceiling fans turning lazily overhead and I liked the way the sawdust that was scattered on the hardwood floor felt underfoot. It was the first store east of Maclean Avenue on the north side of Queen Street and Herbert Gill had operated Gill’s Delicatessen at this location since 1929.
My mother called him Mr. Gill and he called my mother Mrs. Black. I must be blessed with a good memory; Mr. Gill retired in early 1954 so the memories I have of the various visits I made to his shop go back to when I was very young. The fans, the sawdust and the smells, especially the smells, are still with me.
Like the midrib of a leaf, Queen Street is the one and only main artery that bisects the Beach. In the Fifties most of the area residents did the majority of their shopping there; they could find virtually everything that they generally needed on Queen.
And if they didn’t find it there, they hopped on a streetcar and went downtown. There was no point driving to a shopping mall; there were none. There was no reason to drive to a huge 50,000 square-foot grocery super centre; there weren’t any.
The large grocery retailers, Loblaws, Power (owned by Loblaws), I.G.A (Independent Grocers Association), and A & P (Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company) all had stores on Queen but none was bigger than about 4,000 square feet.; they sold groceries and nothing else, which allowed the small independent stores to compete and survive, and to do so with a surprising persistency.
When Mr. Gill retired there were other delicatessens to choose from, well-established businesses with the same level of quality and service. There was Gainsborough Kitchens (established in 1940) between Wheeler and Lee, and Griffiths Foods (1949) between Hambly and Wineva. They were both infused with the same wonderful smells and they each enjoyed a longevity that ultimately exceeded that of Gill’s.
But my mother didn’t know the owners well and they didn’t know her. And no ceiling fans and no sawdust on the floor. I still miss Gill’s. I am sure that there are those who feel the same way about Gainsborough or Griffiths as I do about Gill’s.
None of the grocery stores in the Beach (or elsewhere) filled prescriptions or sold over the counter medicines. If you wanted drugs, you went to a drug store and there were several to choose from. There was Nisbet’s Drug Store at the corner of Elmer Avenue which was there from 1949 to 1959, and Charles Battle’s Drugs from 1946 to 1962 near Waverley Road. And then there was Duncan Meyer who operated his drug store at the northeast corner of Balsam Avenue from 1946 to 1993. In the 1950s Mr. Meyer offered free home delivery which was accomplished by teens riding a dark green bicycle with the Duncan Meyer name proudly displayed. Mr. Meyer passed away in 2010 at the age of 92.
Wallace’s Drug Store was on the northeast corner of Hammersmith Avenue which was established in 1942 and then changed hands to become Hammersmith Drugs in 1955; it survived for many more years. One of the drug stores in the Beach had a Toledo penny weight scale out front; it seems to me it was either Hammersmith Drugs or Duncan Meyer’s I.D.A.
In 1904 a gentleman by the name of Gordon Tamblyn opened his first drug store and it grew into a chain of 130 stores by the time they were purchased by George Weston Limited in 1960. That very first Tamblyn’s Drug Store was located at 2171 Queen St. E. on the southeast corner of Lee Avenue in the Beach.
Tamblyn’s were known for their competitive pricing, their cleanliness, and the presence of a soda fountain at each location manned by a soda jerk; a young white-jacketed fellow sporting a soda jerk hat which resembled a military side or wedge cap but in white. Tamblyn’s remained in the area without interruption from 1904 until the 1960s. The stores would eventually be known as Pharma Plus.
Fruit and vegetable markets seemed to enjoy long lives on Queen Street with Tony’s at Elmer Avenue (established in 1951), the Beach Fruit Market near Willow (1949-1962) and Sam Badali’s near Beech Avenue which remained a fixture from 1925 to 1967.
Butcher shops seemed to come and go with the exception of the Littlefair family’s shop at 2088 Queen St. E. which flourished for 64 years from 1925 until 1989.
There were bakeries like Daw’s and Hunt’s, a Laura Secord Candy Store and a Jenny Lind Candy Shop as well. There were two fish stores both of which sold a wide assortment of fish (including smelts in the spring) and they offered free Friday night delivery of fish and chips via bicycle. Willow Fish on the north side between Beech and Willow Avenue narrowly beat out Nova Fish on the south side near Leuty in the longevity battle; Willow was in business from 1931 to 1989.
There were clothing stores such as Virginia Dare and Mealings Menswear which was across the street from our apartment building for over 45 years. Pollocks and Maher had shoe stores on Queen. There was Ostranders Jewellers, Mulholland Gift Shop and Heywood Florist at Waverley Road which opened in 1927 and Len Simpson sold televisions, radios and other appliances at his Queen and Hammersmith store throughout the Fifties. He also sold records.
Moir Hardware between Hambly and Wineva and Beech Hardware between Spruce Hill Road and Beech Avenue were typical of their era, presenting organized chaos.You could buy virtually any piece of hardware that was needed; it just might take a minute or two for them to find it. They both enjoyed long lives.
Hairdressers and barber shops came and went but Alec Livingston who had his shop between Hammersmith and Glen Manor on the north side was in place for over 45 years. He was my barber. Barbershops in those days all seemed to display a great number of bottles containing an array of colourful liquids, all lined up neatly on a shelf. When the cutting was done, a splash of the contents of one of these bottles would be rubbed into your scalp. Mr. Livingston was no different. As I sat in the chair I would try to guess which one I would get. Now I am trying to guess what was in them. I suspect coloured water with a touch of cologne.
The Beach could even boast of having two “department” stores, Kresge’s and Woolworth’s which faced off against one another across Lee Avenue. I preferred Woolworth’s; their building was new with tiled floors, modern bright lights and attractive shelving and displays. Kresge’s was in an old building with creaking wood floors, dim ancient lighting and dingy counters and cabinets. But they both had toy departments. They also had lunch counters but I can’t say that I ever ate at either one. I told you I was a picky eater.
Fortunately Kresge’s and Woolworth’s didn’t offer the only choices for dining in the Beach in the Fifties. There were several restaurants to choose from but I am having difficulty writing the words choose and choice. When it came to the menus of the era, the principal ingredient which seemed to be lacking was imagination. Hot dogs and burgers, grilled pork chops, liver and minute steak, hot beef, chicken or hamburger sandwiches, and how do you want the potato, mashed or fried? The vegetable du jour is peas. Canned peas; it’s always canned peas. And, of course, none of these restaurants served alcohol; the first licensed establishment in the area would not appear until 1975.
If longevity is an indicator of quality, then QB Grill at Hambly Avenue, the Cozy Grill on the south side and the Garden Gate would have to be considered the clear winners.
QB commenced operations in 1942 and Cozy Grill in 1946 with both of them surviving into the 1980s and Garden Gate at Beech Avenue opened in 1952 and is still operating. I recall all three of these but I was only in one of them, that being the Garden Gate. At least at the Garden Gate there was some variety wherein you could order “Chinese” food.
I don’t remember the Blue Inn Grill near Kenilworth Avenue at all; it was in place from 1948 to 1959, but I do remember the Beach View (1949-1958) and the Parkview (1948-1961) and was in the latter several times. They were right next door to each other at Leuty Avenue.
There was another establishment which I don’t recall, that being the Little Diana Tea Room at 1970 Queen St. E. It was in place from 1937 to 1962. I can find no information about it but I suspect that it is safe to say that they did not serve hot chicken sandwiches. Or hot dogs! What they did serve (besides tea) I don’t know. Perhaps it was a pastry shop.
Our family did not dine out often; in fact, it was a very rare event, but when we did I usually ordered the hot chicken. I liked it. Still do. But most of my limited restaurant experiences at that time were with friends when we would incorporate a trip to the Garden Gate or the Parkview into our itinerary. And we were consistent with our menu choices; chips with gravy and cherry cokes, accompanied of course with music from the tabletop jukeboxes present at both establishments. We usually listened on someone else’s dime.
I had a friend who also lived on Queen Street and there was an arrangement in place that if either of our mothers was not going to be home on a school day at noon then we would lunch together. This invariably consisted of a hot dog and a pop at the snack bar at the back of Harry Harrison’s variety store on the northwest corner of Wineva Avenue. There were several variety or confectionary stores in the Beach but they all seemed to change hands with great frequency. But not Harry; he operated his from 1944 to 1959.
Now I want to comment a bit more on the Garden Gate Restaurant and on its nickname, The Goof. It is generally known that this name came about as a result of a failed light on the sign which includes the word “good” spelled vertically with the word “food” being spelled out horizontally below. The story goes that the light in the letter “d” in “good” blew out and hence the vertical word became goof. I disagree.
Don’t worry, I am not trying to destroy a legend but simply hone it a little. I have a very clear memory of the inception and the instigator of this epic tale; I believe that I was present at the creation. The lights of both of the “D”s were out and one evening an acquaintance of mine pointed this out to a few of us. His name was Doug and he lived on Silver Birch Avenue.
“Look guys. It says Goofoo Restaurant. Let’s all go to the Goofoo!” And it became the Goofoo Restaurant and remained that way for many months before it finally morphed into The Goof. As Paul Harvey would have said “and now you know the rest of the story” and as Mr. Ripley would have said “believe it or not!”
If my mother couldn’t find what she wanted on Queen Street, she would take a streetcar downtown to Yonge Street to shop at Eaton’s and Simpson’s. Sometimes she would take me. Of course there were the annual trips just before Christmas to see the captivating displays in the windows of the two department stores and, earlier in the decade, the visit with Santa in Eaton’s. That other guy in Simpson’s was a phony.
Other than the Christmas trips, I would be taken along once or twice a year; she needed me to be there to try on clothes and shoes, otherwise I would probably have been left behind. We would board the streetcar at Glen Manor Drive and I would get the window seat and, if the weather was good, was allowed to open the window but I had to obey the sign bolted to the sill “keep arms in”. At each stop, as a way of tracking our progress, mother would tell me what the next one would be as I watched the activity on the street and looked for landmarks that were becoming familiar to me.
We passed the Meca Grill at Coxwell Avenue; to this day I don’t know why it only had one “c”. I can remember one very early trip downtown when I was first learning to read and, when we stopped at Carlaw Avenue, I proudly displayed my ability to read long words when I announced that the name of a restaurant was wren-dezz-voos. Mother corrected me on my pronunciation of rendezvous; it was my first word in a foreign language. We passed the impressive house with the large expanse of beautifully landscaped grounds and weeping willow trees at 1444 Queen St. E. occupied by the Ashbridge sisters, Dorothy and Betty, and noted the fresh roses which were always present in the second floor windows. In 1972 they would donate the property to the Ontario Heritage Trust. Then we would cross the bridge over the Don River; it smelled.
On the return trip as I looked out at the south side of the street I liked crossing that bridge as I could look down on the venerable Don Railway Station. Next came the tiny street with the odd name, Baseball Place. It is so named because it was on this site that in 1886 Toronto’s first baseball park was built. It was subsequently renamed Sunlight Park after the soap produced by Lever Brothers next door. Then we passed the Toronto Veterinary Hospital where the name of the vet, Dr. Black, caught my eye; this hospital was run by the Black family (no relation) of vets for over a century.
When the streetcar stopped at Leslie Street a sign in a window assured me that Miss Vivian was still at the organ entertaining patrons of the old Duke of York Hotel. I am not sure if Miss Vivian had an extremely long run at the Duke or if someone had just been too lazy to take the sign down; it was there for years. And then we passed the sprawling TTC yards at Connaught and the mammoth structure that was the Woodbine Race Track before entering our home territory.
There were highs and lows when we went downtown plus one very definite “Fault of the Fifties”. One of the highs was stopping for something to eat in the lower level of Simpson’s, namely a hot dog and an orange drink. But not just any hot dog or any orange drink but a Honey Dew hot dog with mustard (the only condiment available) and Honey Dew Orange served in a paper cup mounted on a silver holder.
And then it was over to the basement of Eaton’s Annex where we could watch our dessert being made. They had a long automated machine that created fresh tasty donuts; Tiny Tim Donuts. It was fun to watch the donuts bobbing along in the oil and then being flipped over by an automated paddle, floating further before being plucked out by another device and then travelling while being suspended to drip dry. They were delicious. They were certainly fresh.
The low point was also in Eaton’s Annex. They had the longest, steepest, most narrow, noisiest and scariest slanted-step escalators in the civilized world. All children thought that those machines were there to devour them. I was scared to death of them.
And now a Fault of the Fifties, and it’s a dandy. Eaton’s had a brand new, state of the art, high tech, futuristic, super cool machine in their shoe department. I am not sure, but I think that, not to be outdone, Simpson’s had one too. This was a large wooden box with an opening at the front near the floor and it had metal viewing ports on the top. When you tried on a new pair of shoes, you would stick your feet in the opening, look through one of the viewers, push a button and, like magic you could see if the shoes were cramping your feet improperly. You could actually see your bones.
It was an x-ray machine! And you could use it as often and for as long as you wanted. It wasn’t unusual to see kids trying it out on their own as their mothers wandered the aisles. They were called fluoroscopes and there were about 1,000 of these things in Canada. Not only were the user’s feet at risk, but their entire body was somewhat exposed as were the bodies of others in the vicinity. Although the effects of radiation exposure were well known, the use of fluoroscopes was not totally discontinued until the late 1960s. A definite Fault of the Fifties.
We may not have realized it then, but seeing that downtown Toronto was so hazardous to our health, let’s get back to the tranquil safety of the Beach.
To read earlier chapters of BOOM, please see below:
To read Chapter Two, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/07/21/chapter-two-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Three, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/07/28/chapter-three-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Four, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/08/04/chapter-four-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Five, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/08/11/chapter-five-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Six, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/08/18/chapter-six-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Seven, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/08/25/chapter-seven-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Eight, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/09/01/chapter-eight-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Nine, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/09/08/chapter-nine-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter 10, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/09/15/chapter-10-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter 11, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/09/22/chapter-11-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter 12, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/09/29/chapter-12-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/