“‘Ere!” said the uniformed doorman.
The policeman leaned down and whispered something to Merrill.

By Gregory Clark, May 17, 1930.

“I am worried,” said Merrill, “about these Shriners.”

“What way?” I asked.

“Well, how is Toronto going to receive them – a hundred thousand of them?” said Merrill. “Toronto is a pretty stick-in-the-mud sort of city. She hasn’t had her propriety jarred since the Mackenzie Rebellion. I tell you am really worried about what going to happen when into this staid and conservative town barges a horde of good-natured people making whoopee.”

“Oh, it’s just a convention,” said I.

“Convention nothing!” exploded Merrill. “I have heard about these Shriner conventions. Why, they take possession of the city. Traffic is demoralized. They just walk in anywhere and have band concerts. They’ve got a bombing squad that comes in the night before the convention opens and it goes raging up and down the streets of the city setting off bombs and machine guns. They hold shirt-tail parades. If they like you they either kiss you or add you to their party whether you want to go or not.”

“Not me!”

“What could you do against hundred thousand?” asked Merrill, now really excited about the matter. “They put little stars and crescent stickers on your face. They come in and inspect your premises. Just imagine Toronto bowing the knee to that sort of thing!”

“Well,” said I, “the convention is coming. It will be here in a week or two. There is nothing we can do about it.”

And that was where Merrill introduced the scheme that got us in so much trouble. If any of you saw us  being hustled by the police or wearing pink straw hats or playing mouth-organs in public you will understand now that we were not that way, but were simply out doing our duty as journalists.

“I tell you what we can do,” said Merrill. “We can make an investigation. We can make a test of Toronto’s resistance to disturbance. We can do great service both to Toronto and to the Shriners by going around in advance of the convention and finding out just how Toronto reacts to whoopee.”

“For instance?” I asked.

“For instance,” said Merrill, “we could play musical instruments in public places and see what the people do. Our fellow-citizens.”

“Suppose some of our friends saw us?”

“Would you cramp the sacred function of journalism just because of what your friends might think of you?”

“I draw the line at shirt-tail parades,” I said. “And as for kissing girls and putting stickers on their faces to mark the spot …”

“I, too, am in my late thirties,” retorted Merrill.

So we made our plan and did it.

Neither Merrill nor I is a Shriner. Merrill is a holy roller and I am a continuing Methodist. We wear no buttons other than what the tailors sew on. But we feel our test was a perfectly fair and sound one none the less.

Our first experiment was with traffic. The authorities have recently closed the foot of Yonge St. so as to make an experiment themselves, and any of you who drive into town via the Lakeshore and Bay St. will understand some of the problems that are going to exist in a couple of weeks. It was because of the tie-up on lower Bay St. that Merrill and I selected that region for our experiment.

“One car will be no good,” said Merrill. “We will use both our cars so it will be a procession. I will lead in my roadster you follow in yours.”

“Should we not wear funny hats?” I asked. “That would lend atmosphere. It would explain to those we encounter that we are not just ordinary people doing wrong. If you wear a funny hat it sort of advertises the fact that this is a special occasion.”

“I will wear my hat crossways on my head if you like,” said Merrill.

Like the First Armistice Day

What we planned to do was to go contrary to regulations, create a real scene in the middle of the city and then see what the public did. So we started on King St., opposite The Star building, went east to Bay St., Merrill leading and I following right behind him in my small car.

And we turned down Bay St. on the LEFT side of the road!

It was about 9.15 a.m. Up Bay St. streamed the late-comers. They were all in fidgets. Big Ben stared reproachfully down Bay St. at them. And without the slightest hesitation Merrill, like Admiral Drake at the Armada, led our little flotilla of two cars straight bang into the upcoming procession on their side of the road.

At first the leaders thought we were just making an early turn to go east on Melinda St. But when we calmly proceeded down the wrong side of the street there was a sudden uproar of horns.

A street car started up from Wellington. Merrill with his Christie hat crossways on his head, and looking very absurd from behind, doggedly took the inside of the street car. It stopped, while the motorman, who had a drooping yellow mustache and wore his cap on the back of his head, opened the doors and leaned out with wide blue eyes popping. Bay St. fairly roared with indignant horns and reporters came charging out of the Telegram office to see if Al Smith had arrived in town.

By the time Merrill and I were stopped solidly facing a mass of traffic all the way down to Front St. And all howling. A crowd assembled by magic. There was a clatter of hoofs and a mounted policeman dashed up beside us. He leaned down off his horse and said something softly to Merrill.

“We are two journalists,” said Merrill, “making an experiment to determine Toronto’s resistance to disturbance in preparation for the Shriners’ convention.”

This was the little speech we had prepared so as to explain to anyone who might need to know what we were doing.

The policeman leaned down and whispered something else to Merrill. Merrill shook his head and his hat fell off. The policeman, I noticed, got very red in the face and started to get down off his horse. It was by this time like the first armistice day, with all the horns blowing and figures running from all directions. I saw six policemen pushing through. And at that moment the street car started. Merrill slipped over to the right side of the road and I followed. He hoicked around on Front St. and we pulled up to the curb near the Royal York.

“Phew!” said Merrill. “What did I tell you?”

“What did the policeman say?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t repeat it,” said Merrill. “It referred to me personally.”

“Do you think the experiment was a success?” ‘I inquired.

“Certainly it was,” said Merrill. “It demonstrates conclusively that Toronto has no patience. How did those people know we might not just be a couple of chaps out for a little fun? Yet within thirty seconds of turning down Bay St. you would think the end of the world had come. Toronto has no patience.”

“Point number one,” said I.

So we went around another way and put our cars away.

Our second experiment was not quite so public. Again wearing our hats sideways, we took our stand in the lobby of a well-known trust company and started a small musical entertainment. It was only a modest little concert. Merrill had a kettledrum and I played the mouthorgan.

“Happy Days Are Here Again” was the tune we selected, because it is so merry and bright. There was nothing wrong with the piece.

City Not Impulsively Friendly

For a moment nothing happened. At the first beat of the drum, which Merrill plays really well, all the customers and clerks looked up and stared as if frozen. The uniformed doorman took two or three steps towards us and then stopped suddenly and swayed. I feared he was going to be seized with an attack of some sort. I got a little off the tune, but quickly picked it up again. Merrill beat more loudly to cover my lapse.

“‘Ere!” said the uniformed doorman. He was not very sure of himself, because Merrill and I, save for our hats, were quite as well dressed as the president of the trust company himself.

“Throw them out!” came a voice from back somewhere behind all the office cages and grills. Office help came crowding from the back rooms.

“‘Ere!” repeated the doorman. But Merrill, his face set grimly as experimenters’ should be in the face of difficulties, pounded on.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder from behind. A large hand took me by the collar and another by the seat of the trousers and without knowing who my assailant was I was propelled violently through the handsome doors of the trust company and ended up against a lamppost on the street.

Merrill followed shortly. The drum was around his neck.

We scrambled to our feet and hurried up a side street and into a broker’s office, where we sat down in disgust.

“What did I tell you!” demanded Merrill, breathlessly. He is built more for intellectual experiments than for those involving the physical being.

“Experiment number two,” said I. “What does it teach?”

“Toronto is intolerant, even of sweet music,” said Merrill. “If only two men get such scant courtesy with a mouthorgan and a drum, what on earth will happen in Toronto when a hundred thousand people come here playing trombones?”

“Haven’t we proved our case?” I asked. “We don’t need to go any further, do we?”

Merrill turned a scornful gaze at me.

“Do you not carry accident insurance?” said he.

“Yes, but would this be considered an accident?”

Our next experiment was to stand out on Yonge St. in front of Ellis’ jewelry store and greet everybody. We both wore straw hats that we had dyed a pretty cerise pink. We did not wish to go under false colors and wear fezes, although Merrill said that by the time we published these results of our experiments the Shriners would probably want to make us honorary life members.

We stood back to back with our hats on our heads, Merrill facing north and I facing south, and we offered to shake hands with everybody, lady or gent, old or young, as they passed.

“Welcome,” we said. “Hail! Greetings to our Toronto brothers.”

The first three to pass me were ladies and they curved away like frightened colts. When I held my hand out to the first man he looked away and shook his head:

“Haven’t got any,” he said.

Quite a crowd gathered. Most of them smiled and looked amused, but I heard one man say distinctly:

“And they say the O. T. A. is a success!”

I heard Merrill behind me talking to someone. He was saying:

“We are a couple of journalists conducting experiments to determine Toronto’s … “

And then his voice was cut short. I turned. A policeman was just reaching for my collar.

“If you’re not reds you’re pinks anyway,” said the cop.

We said we would go quietly. With quite a following we walked over and soon set the matter right with the sergeant at the station, who goes fishing with me and knows me to be a sincere if somewhat misguided scholar. Merrill keeps two Irish terriers, so that was soon fixed.

“If they will pinch you for just offering to shake hands,” stated Merrill, in discussing this third experiment, “what will they do if you kiss a girl in public?”

“What lesson shall we draw from this experiment?” I asked.

“Toronto,” said Merrill, “is not impulsively friendly.”

“Check,” said I.

“N.S.F.,” parried Merrill. And we proceeded with our final and most painful experiment.

Evening as drawing nigh. At an uptown toy and stationery shop we got the merchant to go down cellar and bring up some of the fireworks he had left over from last Twenty-fourth and which he was getting ready for this year. We bought a good supply of cannon crackers of the largest size. We then went over to Merrill’s to discuss our experiments and to wait until a later hour of the night.

No Tolerant Sense of Humor

A little before midnight we started forth well supplied with punk and matches. We had selected a route and I was to drive about the residential streets selected while Merrill would set off the cannon crackers as fast as he could throw them and for as long as they lasted.

North of St. Clair, on a street lined with noble residences, we started our bombing experiment. Four giant crackers were exploded in the block, and we stopped at the corner to look back and observe the results. Lights sprang up in many windows and heads appeared and men came running out of front doors. Two youngish men ran out to a parked roadster and jumped in.

“Go ahead,” said Merrill. “We are being followed.”

Down the next street we raced, banging crackers as fast as possible. The sport roadster gained on us. Along and up another handsome street we making a terrific racket.

“Three cars after us now,” said Merrill. “Keep her going.”

We must have done about ten blocks and the crackers were still holding out when Merrill shouted that there were about fifteen cars after us and the leader was a big limousine.

Some of the crackers were duds and others had delayed action fuses and one which Merrill threw did not go off until the big limousine which was leading the procession alter us was right on top of it. The big car slewed dangerously and then picked up speed.

It raced alongside of us.

“Stop!” hissed Merrill in my ear.

“Stop!” hissed Merrill in my ear.

I stopped. The big car drew alongside and out poured a quantity of very large policemen.

“What’s the idea?” asked their leader.

“We are two journalists,” began Merrill with dignity.

But the policeman did not want to hear what Merrill had to say anyway. We were both lifted into the limousine and two of the policemen got into my little car and drove it along behind us, all sagging down.

“It’s quite all right,” said we at station to all the policemen. “We are making social experiments. Just call the sergeant down at Number One. He knows about us.”

But the sergeant at Number One apparently said he never heard of us.

“AII right then; call our editor.”

Our editor does rot often get a chance to get even with us.

“I have nobody by those names on my paper,” he told the police.

“Let me speak to him,” I begged.

“He says he does not want to speak to you under any circumstances,” said the policeman.

“He says if it really is a story you are getting he wants it to be a good one.”

So this is it.

Merrill told the policemen about his Irish terriers and all their cute tricks. I talked about fishing and offered to play any two of the cops dominoes with only one hand.

But it was nearly morning before the policemen, several of whom were members of different lodges and felt some sympathy for the Shriners, got interested in our experiments and agreed to let us go if we did not carry out any more of them.

“There is just one more experiment we ought to do,” said Merrill, when we got outside and around a couple of blocks from the police station. “We ought to try and get into a house and pretend it is a Shriner who has lost the address of his billet.”

“No,” said I.

“There will be a hundred thousand Shriners,” argued Merrill, “about one per cent of whom, that is to say, one thousand, will mislay their proper addresses or mistake the house and try to get into somebody’s house just about this time of the morning.”

Dawn was painting the eastern sky.

“No,” I said loudly.

“Very well, then,” said Merrill. “Come back to my place for breakfast. It’s only a few blocks.”

Merrill being rather stout, he cannot get very close to a keyhole to put the key in. He was just fumbling with the key at his front door when the window above opened and at least a pailful of water was dumped on our heads.

As we shook the water off our heads and shoulders in the vestibule Merrill said:

“The experiment works! If two scientific investigators like us can get into trouble even within the sacred precincts of our homes what is going to happen when a hundred thousand strangers come to town in the spirit of revelry?”

“Toronto,” said I, “has no patience, no appreciation of extempore music, no impulsive friendliness, no tolerant sense of humor.”

“And the wives of Toronto,” said Merrill, who, being larger, had got more of the water I, “believe the worst of their husbands.”

“What general conclusion do you draw from our experiments then?” I inquired.

“That am going to have a front row seat for the whole show for the full three days the Shriners are in this good old highty-tighty town!” said Merrill.

“I think I’ll go fishing,” said I.

Editor’s Notes: This is one of the “proto-Greg-Jim” stories, this time with Greg and Merrill Denison.

Shiners were known to be very rowdy with their conventions. Shirt-tail parades were parades formed by men grabbing the shirt of the man in front of them and forming a conga line that marched up and down the street.

Merrill’s Christy hat was his bowler hat, implying it was from the famous store Christy’s in London.

The Toronto Telegram was a rival paper to the Star. He implied the reporters ran out into the street as if Al Smith was in town. Al Smith was the former governor of New York and the 1928 Democratic candidate in the U.S. Presidential Election (he lost).

Happy Days Are Here Again” was written in 1929.

Toronto police were notorious at this time with being extra violent to communists, or “reds”.

The 24th referred to Victoria Day, previously the only legal day to set off fireworks in Ontario.