By Gregory Clark, November 28, 1936
“Too crude, too rough,” declared Mayor W. D. Robbins to-day when shown photographs of the chorus girls of the new Club Esquire at Sunnyside, which opened with a $7.50 per couple bang last night.
“I have been asked for a report,” admitted Sergeant George Eagleson, head of the Toronto morality squad, who attended not only an official police preview but the big bang as well.
“I shall report the matter to Chief Constable Draper on his return to the city Monday,” said Deputy Chief George Guthrie.
Thus once more the defenders of this good old Alcazar, Toronto the Good, are manning the ramparts to guard against the invasion of the city by fourteen Eves, with little more than a fig leaf and a few pine needles apiece to cover them.
“There were many eminent citizens at the opening of the club,” said Sergeant Eagleson, “I heard no adverse comments.”
Last night, when the Club Esquire opened, this reporter happened to be in Callander, Ont. visiting the Quints, which is a fine way for a newspaperman to miss the last boat. But a few discreet inquiries amongst friends who had $7.50 plus some loose change for hat checking and car parking and such emergencies of a gentleman of fashion’s life, discover the fact that compared with New York, Montreal, Chicago and Buffalo night clubs, the performance was decidedly prim and proper. But that compared with any previous attempts at introducing night clubs to Toronto. It was a long step either forward, backward or sideways.
Looks Like Free Ad
“In some of the numbers,” they told me, “the girls did that floating gauze dance like they do at the Skating Carnival, only they were dressed for summer, not winter, and they had no skates. They had, as a matter of fact, what is called a G-string in the night club business, plus a brassiere perhaps not quite as big as those bandana handkerchief brassieres that were so popular last summer at the swimming beaches. But of course, it was nothing like the strip-acts that have created former scandals in Toronto burlesque theatres, nor even remotely as daring as the acts to be seen at practically every night club everywhere in the world except Toronto.”
As a matter of fact, this whole action on the part of the city fathers come Monday will probably boil down to a beautiful free ad for Mr. William Beasley, promoter of the Club Esquire, a publicity which he couldn’t buy even if he did spend $70,000 on his new club.
In feeling Toronto’s pulse, as they say, about this matter, I did not interview any ministers, because we know anyway what ministers would think and say. Nor did I interview any furriers or ladies’ tailors, since obviously they too would condemn any move toward nudism. Being unable to reach Sir Edward Beatty, president of the C.P.R., I only talked to a ticket seller at the station, and he said it would certainly cut the traffic to New York and elsewhere if night clubs like this were allowed in Toronto, since the only thing Toronto hasn’t got, as a convention city, is a series of night clubs adequate to the convention business.
“Wow, Oh Boy”
But I did sneak the pictures of the girls off the editor’s desk and took them out into the snowstorm to show to the man on the street, as the saying is.
And was he ever interested?
“Wow, oh, boy!” and things like that were their comments, in the same tone of voice you will hear from the lads at the swimming baths in July and August, when a particularly daisy one strolls, ah, so unconsciously, along the concrete in a three-ounce bathing costume.
One thing that always stands out in this controversy every time it recurs in Toronto is the lack of humor displayed on both sides. The condemners are shocked beyond measure. The upholders are as mad as wet hens.
A quarter of a century ago, when I was a cub reporter, Rev. John Coburn created a front page sensation by attending a burlesque show disguised in smoked glasses and then reporting a sensational disclosure of the depravity of man or the theatre. I forget which.
Rev. J. Coburn’s View
Here, a quarter of a century later, Rev. John Coburn makes the following statement:
“Toronto does not need to import the American night club. There are already abundant means of entertainment for the people. I was shocked this morning to find that a group of people had spent $10,000 last night on that kind of thing. For thoughtless people to spend $10,000 a night in dissipation while multitudes of good folk are forced to live in semi-starvation here is to inspire and encourage violent discontent. Such callous disregard of the needs of the disinherited is one of the forces making for revolution. A newspaperman has shown me some photographs which he claims were taken at this club. If these photographs are true pictures I have no hesitation in saying that the entertainment was not of a wholesome character.”
Hard to Draw Line
I was thinking of going to see a snazzy movie to-night, but now I guess I won’t. It’s hard to draw a line. What tickles me doesn’t tickle these 1,000 top hatters who went to the Esquire last night at all. They probably wouldn’t even twitch their upper lip at Laurel and Hardy, whereas I actually get down under my pew and stuff my plaid neck muffler down my throat to prevent myself dying at Laurel and Hardy. It’s pretty depraved of me to enjoy myself so in times like these. And all I say is, anybody who has got $7.50 plus a little loose change in case of a flat tire or anything, and a silk hat and a dress suit, is probably so depraved anyway that there is practically no use trying to lift him up.
It each of those 500 couples who were at the Esquire last night will kick in $7.50 to The Star Santa Claus Fund, I personally will for give them this once.
And as for Mr. Willie Beasley and his fourteen little girls who were probably positively perspiring I under all that gauze and stuff, Mayor Robbins Chief Draper and Sergeant Eagleton, the eagle eye, will tell us Monday.
Editor’s Notes: $7.50 in 1936 is equal to $139 in 2020.
William D. Robbins was mayor of Toronto briefly between 1936-37. He was appointed mayor after the death of incumbent Sam McBride and remained in office until defeated by Ralph Day in the 1937 elections.
The Morality department of the Toronto Police was formed in 1886, to go after drinking, gambling, prostitution, Sunday opening, juvenile delinquency, and other “social evils”. Some context can be found here and here. Because of this strict morality, Toronto was known as “Toronto the Good”. As the article indicated, it was considered by some as much too strict.
The history of Club Esquire at Sunnyside Beach can be found here. Built in 1917, the Sunnyside Pavilion held two restaurants and a tea garden with views looking out on to the lakeshore. In 1920, the building was enlarged and a new south entrance was added. At this time, the pavilion became known for the Blue Room, with a capacity for 400 diners or 175 dancing couples, and the Rose Room, which could seat 300 or hold 150 couples. Dancing would follow supper, with music often provided by a live orchestra. In 1936, the Sunnyside Pavilion was renovated and became known as the Club Esquire Supper Club, with stage shows and dancing. In 1941, the building was converted again, into the Top Hat Night Club. The building was eventually demolished in 1956 to make way for the new westbound lanes of Lake Shore Boulevard.