The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Mayor Says Club’s Show “Too Crude”

Right next door we glimpse Jane Terry, one of the beauties of the Club Esquire, the opening of which has been attended with some discussion as to the propriety of dress worn by the stunning entertainers. Some opinions express shock, while other citizens are content to preach a policy of laissez faire. Adjoining Jane Terry, in the style of the gay nineties, is another gay lady, Mae West, those memory can hark back to the day when the police patrol wagon backed up against her theatre, with no great detriment to the box office revenues.

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.

Greg and Jim Write Book Now It’s Up to Posterity

GREG AND JIM GO LITERARY
Twirling back the pages of time, Greg Clark and Jim Frise have taken a peep into the past to bring forth “Which We Did” – the official publication of their many and varied experiences on the bumpy road of life. It is their first attempt at book writing and the proud fathers of Birdseye Center and the Adventures of Greg and Jim have outdone any of their previous mirth-making efforts in this new brain child. Left is a picture of Greg Clark and on the right an adventure as depicted by the able pen of Jimmy Frise.

By R.C. Reade, November 14, 1936

Many of the Greg-Jim articles which have long been a feature of The Star Weekly are to-day issued in book form under the title “Which We Did.” The volume, published by S. J. Reginald Saunders, Toronto, contains sketches which have previously entertained Star Weekly readers in addition to several new ones hitherto unpublished.

A representative of The Star Weekly had in Paris recently an experience which shows that the fame of Gregory Clark and James Frise as humorists has spread far beyond Canada. The gentleman in question was introduced to an editor of Le Paris Soir, one of the largest and most successful of Parisian papers and especially famous for its feature articles and high literary standard.

“So you are from the paper that every week has the funny article,” the Paris editor ejaculated, with open arms. “They are wonderful, magnificent, classic!” Both the French and English language were totally inadequate on him.

This from a prominent editor in a country which still regards Moliere as its standard in comedy is high praise indeed and a great tribute to these collaborators’ power of comic invention.

Perhaps one of the great reasons for their success is their spontaneity and naturalness. No man knows what they are going to do next or write and draw next. Neither does Gregory Clark nor Jimmy Frise.

Necessity is often the spur to their invention, when the roaring presses will permit no further procrastination. They are like clever after-dinner speakers who, when unexpectedly called upon, can take a felicitous subject from thin air as a magician draws a rabbit from a hat. This gives their work the charm of the impromptu.

Their admirers invariably ask, “How on earth do you ever think of all the queer things you do?”

Their only answer to that is an expressive gesture which means, “Search me. How do I know?”

Their real reason is that they dip into the stream of current contemporary life, and that rich flow never fails to bring fish to their net. Their acute awareness of what is in the mind of the average man gives their work the authentic stamp of actuality.

Another question frequently put to this writer and his illustrator is, “Do you actually do all the queer stunts you say you do?”

“And the funny thing,” said Greg, “is that people will swallow our most fantastic adventures and refuse to believe some of the very simple things such as dropping a 50-cent piece on the pavement for a prosperous citizen to stamp on and claim as his own.”

“Last summer in the hot spell,” remarked Frise, “when the postman came to my door he said ‘Surely you fellows didn’t fry an egg on the city hall steps? You can’t make me believe that.'”

“I happened to have by me a photograph of Greg and I watching the egg sizzle in the sun with my dog Rusty looking over our shoulders. I showed that to the postman and seeing was believing for him. I am sure now that there is no adventure Greg can concoct which that postman won’t fall for, hook, line and sinker.”

After going through the ordeal this morning of a formal interview for The Daily Star, neither Greg nor Jim were in the mood for any further agony to provide a sprightly birth notice for “Which We Did.”

An efficiency expert would never approve of their methods of collaboration. There is good deal of artlessness in their art. They may arrange a rendezvous in an armchair lunch and the important conference may be adjourned since die without a scintilla of an idea.

Clark may climb to Frise’s tower studio and elevate his short legs to Jimmy’s littered desk while Jimmy drapes his long legs around his drawing board. There for half an hour or more they may commune like Quakers in silence. Then Greg suddenly, like Archimedes, may cry out, “Eureka! I have it,” or they may exclaim simultaneously, for their two minds are so well attuned that they often have a single comic thought.

The reading public that laughs at their printed adventures does not get half the humor that there is in their eccentric modes of joint production.

With regard to Liddell and Scott’s well-known Greek dictionary, there is a famous query as to which half was by Scott and which half was by Liddell. It is just as difficult to unscramble the partnership of Clark and Frise. Greg, of course, is the scribe who plays Boswell to Frise’s Johnson, but a Greg-Jim article without Jimmie as the eternally baffled stooge and without Jimmie’s characteristic illustration would be like “Hamlet” without Hamlet.

Frise in his modesty is apt to deprecate his own contribution, but without Jim’s art and whimsicality there would be no Greg-Jim.

Theirs is no artificial union, a mere stage partnership. Everyone who knows them is aware that they admirably balance one another’s qualities and are, as the slang phrase has it, a pair of naturals.

As it takes two greyhounds to course and capture a hare, so it is necessary for these two humorists to hunt their quarry together. Their book’s title “Which We Did,” bears witness to the duality of their comic existence.

To one who ponders the reason for the Paris editor’s remark that their humor is classic, it is apparent that it is a humor of situations, a factual humor, and not a mere fireworks of verbal wit. Their adventures can be filmed like those of Mr. Pickwick.

And so they have created a living human comedy, giving their readers a vivid sense of their essential reality as the long and the short of the genus homo, and go merrily on their way in their present book as in their past articles perpetuating as veraciously as any Mr. Gulliver, the popular illusion that their life is one long series of laughable, farcical adventures.


Editor’s Notes: This article was published on November 14, 1936 to promote their book, Which We Did (and reprinted again the next week on November 21).

R.C. Reade was a staff writer for the Toronto Star and Star Weekly, who had some of his stories illustrated by Jim in the 1920s and 1930s.

Miracle Year for Salmon!

Leo Briar, 16-year-old student at Magee high school, Vancouver, is one of hundreds of volunteer workers who are helping to haul in this year’s record salmon catch and pack it for shipment overseas.

Like an answer to prayer Canada is hauling in its greatest catch in history, packing it all for Britain and starving Europe…

By Gregory Clark, October 17, 1942.

VANCOUVER

Captain Joe Katnich is 40. He is master and owner of the 63-foot fishing boat Westview, home port, Vancouver. In 10 days, Captain Joe and his six chosen crew netted 50,000 sockeye salmon averaging seven pounds apiece, in this greatest salmon run, this most miraculous salmon run, in Canada’s history.

Captain Joe owns the boat, but, for the salmon season, charters it to the big canning company which takes his fish, so as to put himself and his crew on the old-established co-operative basis with the cannery.

The catch is divided into 11 shares. That is tradition. To the boat, 2 1/2 shares. To the net, a vast, complicated seine, 1 1/2 shares, making 4 shares. The remaining 7 shares are divided equally among the seven aboard, master and six of crew.

50,000 fish at 6 1/2 lbs.

325,000 lbs. at 13 1/2 cents.

$43,875 or, with “scrap fish” added, $44,000. Each share, $4,000.

For 10 days’ work, each of the crew gets $4,000. The net belongs to Captain Joe, so he gets another 1 1/2 shares, or $6,000 more.

For 10 days work, in this miracle subterranean blizzard of precious sockeye storming up from the Pacific, Captain Joe gets $10,000.

From the 2 1/2 shares belonging to the boat, he gets a rebate, for chartering it to the company, of another three or four thousand.

High Man of the Run

For 10 days, then, of this incredible gift of the sea to us poor, food-rationed, anxious and bedevilled humanity, Captain Joe Katnich is somewhere near $15,000 richer; his crew of six, plain, strong, brave men of the sea, Slavs, Swedes, Natives, walk up the catwalk to the cannery offices and draw a yellow cheque each for $4,000. And, in the day and night humming cannery, vast and white by the teeming. stupendously generous, life-giving river, by the action of these seven men from the 325,000 pounds of fish they caught, stream out more than half a million cans of salmon, one pound, half pound and quarter pound.

To go to Britain! To go into food reserves on our coast, and in Britain. Food reserves for a starving Europe. One of the mightiest weapons of war. The promise to France, Belgium, Holland, Russia – them all.

“But,” said Captain Joe with one of those permanent Slav grins, “don’t think I’m rich. When the government gets through with that $15,000 – poof! – taxes!”

“Where do you come from, captain?”

“Yugoslavia.”

“When?”

“1925. I take one look. I made a couple hundred. I go right back and get my wife and baby.”

“Did you learn fishing here on the Pacific coast?”

“No, SIR! My family have fished the Adriatic since olden time; since the Romans.”

“You glad to be a Canadian!”

“Ohoho yes!!! Who isn’t? And it was not hard to be. In 1930, five years here, the company (packing company) think I am safe man, so they choose me for master of one of their boats. In 1936, I got enough money to buy my own boat. This is her. The Westview – 63-foot. The best.”

And best she is. For, unless the incomparable storm of salmon runs far longer than any one dreams, Captain Joe Katnich is high man of the great 1942 run, with his 50,000 big fish.

The Canneries Glutted

There were any number of other boats that made over 30,000 fish catches, some over 40,000. A few boats landed square into the middle of the run, even though it had passed up the gulf past the hordes of State of Washington seiners, and made one-day hauls of 12,000 fish. One captain got 15,000, had his boat filled to the point of sinking and then threw his seine again and filled it and had to wait until the “packer,” the company boat that comes around and takes some of the fish off the seiners, arrived. He had nearly 3,000 corralled in that net, overflow.

Of course, it is silly to try to depict this great miracle of the fishes in terms of one boat, one master, a few men.

Over 45,000,000 pounds of sockeye salmon were caught in this one swift run of only a few days. The canneries of the B.C. coast were glutted. Day after day the government had to order “cease fishing” to the seiners so that the fish would not be wasted, so terrific was the catch and so hopelessly swamped were the canneries.

All this miracle came following the dedication of the whole catch to Britain. Was it a miracle? Was it answer to a prayer? And what these Canadians have done, the Americans have done equally, in the lower American waters through which the mighty Fraser salmon run has to pass.

Well, to a stranger like myself, this spectacle at the Fraser’s mighty mouth looked more like some Wagnerian regatta of the gods than a mere industrial scene. When we speak of the large seiners like Captain Joe Katnich’s, it is nothing. There are only 100 of them. When we speak of the gill netters, in their little 30 and 40-footers, who do not go out in the treacherous gulf but labor in the more or less sheltered mouth of the Fraser, it is nothing: although there are literally hundreds of them.

They’re “Dollar Fish”

There were rowboats in this miracle. Little one-man dories. As we cruised with camera up and down the miles of river mouth in a speed boat, we saw and talked to kids, two in a boat, with a gill net 100 feet long, which they laid out over the stern of their skiff, who had got 160 salmon yesterday and had 60 more, at noon, as we passed; and they, like kids, hauling in their net into the silly little boat, with the high waves running, and taking the big seven-pound sockeyes out of the meshes and the 10 and 15-pound chums and an odd cohoe (“scraps,” says the cannery man, not meaning any insult to the fish) and one loner, a shy lad of about 20, toiling alone with a big net over the stern of a rowboat I wouldn’t go out on Toronto bay with! The sea running, the crazy little craft bouncing and rearing, with 20 sockeyes all over the floor of her, sliding; and 60 the day before.

At a dollar a fish. “Dollar fish is what they were called along the coast; although, at an average of 6 1/2 pounds, they came to 80 some cents.

“There goes a dollar,” yelled one gill netter indignantly, as our speedboat hove near and he, in paying attention to us, allowed one writhing, sea-bred seven-pounder to struggle out of his grasp from the net and back into the sea.

That sockeye, released from the mysterious net and from the hands of man, put on an incredible performance. In a vast arc, three hundred yards, at intervals of about 20 yards, it leaped along the surface, in terrific muscular leaps of 20 feet, a living torpedo, plunging, careering madly over the surface, either in terror or ecstasy; until it finally went deeper and leaped no more.

The seiners, the big boats, left at 4 a.m. from the Fraser and went as far out and down the Gulf of Georgia as they needed to meet the incoming miracle. Early in the run they went far down, near where the Americans were making their first, their choice skimming of the mighty crop. As the 10-15 day stampede drew northward to the great Fraser, home of them all, the seiners backed up, day by day. The seiners go forth in as much of a flotilla as they can, because the channels and the tides which the sockeye ride are well known to the captains, and the best captains are watched narrowly by all the rest of the flotilla.

Overside goes the dory: grabs a rope attached to the outer end of the piled seine net, with its thick corks to float it, and its big fat lead weights to sink it. And its brass rings, big around as a tea plate, to purse it when the fish are in the bag.

Past the American seiners, far more numerous, has come the silver tide. Past the seiners out of the Fraser it surges. And then the gill netters get their chance.

Besides several days of the run on which the government called a closure by reason of the glutted canneries, Saturdays and Sundays are also closed. This lets a share of the sockeye get safely past the perils of man and up into the Fraser to go through Hell’s Gate and hundreds of miles up into the rivers and lakes where they spawn and make their promise of another record run four years from now.

The gill netters are the little people of the miracle. But they have the most fun. The average gill-net boat is a chunky little craft of 32 feet, with a small cabin forward, a round drum amidships for helping haul in the net and a sort of slide or pulley at the stern over which the 150-fathom – or 300 yards long – net, with its floats and sinkers, comes, hand fed, but engine-drum hauled.

You will see little boats like them all over the waterfront of the world, in Muskoka, on the St. Lawrence, even up on the lumberjack lakes.

The reason we pick the Geddes boat, which is only a 28-footer, is because Mr. and Mrs. Lawrie Geddes were the captain and crew, man and wife, and mighty pleasant young people, too. Geddes and his wife come over to the Fraser mouth, 15 miles from Vancouver, for six months of the year. Then tie up their boat and come home to Vancouver for the other six months, where he works in the shipyards.

How the Gill Netters Work

We came alongside and talked to them, all bobbing up and down on the windblown Fraser fresh off the gulf. They had 165 fish in the boat at the moment. No. 167, because there were two threshing about in the net, half up over the stern, right where Mrs. Geddes had slipped the clutch as we hove alongside. Yesterday they took 300.

Mrs. Geddes was about 27. Lawrie Geddes about 30 or 32. Six of the spring, summer and autumn months, they fish together for a living, with gill nets, as now, in the great sockeye run; with plain trolling when the huge spring salmon or tyee are on the move, 20 to 80-pounders. They have a happy and amusing life. When we took our picture of them. Mrs. Geddes said, “Goodness, I haven’t even had a chance to redd the place up.” The place being this little boat which, with its cabin, is their home for months of every year.

Beaming at the whoppers in their fishing smack are Mr. and Mrs. Lawrie Geddes.

Nothing like this 1942 sockeye run of the dollar fish have the Geddeses ever seen; for it was 1913 when the last great sockeye run was recorded. They make enough, in ordinary seasons, to keep them happy and paid for their time. This year, they will probably pay off all the family debt.

They feed out their net both day and night. Picking a clear spot in the crowded river, they start feeding their gill net, 900 feet long, over the stern. Mrs. Geddes lets the engine slowly pull ahead while her husband feeds its neatly folded length over the roller at the stern. Once they get a few yards of it out, it is easy to feed the rest off. They may lay it straight out, in a line; or curve it; or make a letter S of it. For this net does not enclose the salmon. The salmon, running this and that up the river, now fresh water, hit the net, shove their heads through, are caught by their shoulders. And if they try to back up, are trapped by the gills.

On the end of their net is a small wooden buoy with a bright cloth flag on it. At night, they put a lantern on it. This to warn the fishermen not to foul their net, although most of the fishing boats have a guard or skeg around their propellers, so they can ride right over a net. And if they do, okay, for sooner or later, in a madhouse like this, somebody is going to run over somebody else’s net,

The net is fed out to its full length. With its corks holding its top edge up and the weights holding its lower edge down, there it rides, 12 feet deep in the river.

Some of the gill netters leave it only half an hour. Others leave it two or three hours and have a nap in the little cabin of their craft, or eat a meal. It is all a matter hunch.

Just When They’re Needed

Of the little rowboats and skiffs we were able to get little information beyond the number of their catch which they could shout to us, because we dared not run to close in on them, due to the rough sea in the river mouth. They were all being run by boys, some of them appearing to be under 18.

They did not bring their catch into the big canneries, and we were unable to locate them along the shore. But they were having the most fun of all, their feet braced on the gunwales, as the crazy little craft bucked and leaped. If they got as much each day of the run as they had when we passed, they would make several hundred dollars; their license costs them a dollar; and their net, new, $300 from the company; or a second year net, $150. One young fellow in the Western Leckie Co. which makes nets, took his holidays in the upswing of the run, bought a fishing boat for $350, got a net for $150, caught $900 worth of fish, sold the boat for $450, and came back to work much refreshed by his vacation. And besides, he will sell nets much more efficiently from now on!

It would be nice to take another couple of pages of The Star Weekly to tell the why and wherefore of this miracle of the salmon run of 1942. For there is a why and wherefore. Twenty years ago, the salmon industry in B.C. was a $20,000,000 producer. Ten year ago, it had fallen to a mere $3,000,000. The scientists and the business men got busy. They are finding out new things about salmon every year. Why, when they dwindled to the vanishing point, this colossal resurgence of the sockeye in 1942, this year of crisis and of need?

Well, maybe the editors will let Norman James, the photographer, and me go rampaging around, at their expense, to view more miracles. This is a miracle at Hell’s Gate, on the Fraser. There, 130 miles up from the mouth, these billions of sockeye have to negotiate a terrible door. Some years it is closed. Some years it is open. Sometimes, the day, the week it is open the sockeye are not there. They are miles away, hundreds of miles, at sea. Or strewn downstream dead, from having assailed Hell’s Gate a week too soon, or too late. Then, one year, they arrive and find it open. And they are in plenty. And they go through. And then the miracle blooms. For down, the next year, come their billions of babies. And on the fourth year, return again in the marching myriads.

Then we get the miracle, like 1942.

And in 1942, it is miracles we need.


Editor’s Notes: This story was published in the middle of World War Two.

A seiner is a boat that fishes with a seine, a large net with sinkers on one edge and floats on the other that hangs vertically in the water and is used to enclose and catch fish when its ends are pulled together or are drawn ashore.

To “redd up” means to tidy up.

Who Wouldn’t Be a Sport Announcer!

Over the radio it sounded like the thundering herd in fall gallop
A sharp tag on the wire and warning shout from above would remind me where I was.

By Foster Hewitt, October 13, 1928

The Lot of the Radio Man at the Big Games is No Bed of Roses

A radio announcer’s job is no bed of roses, particularly in the sporting line. To most people it gives the impression of the luck some fellows have of being able to attend so many games and then to have the best seat in the house for the occasion. It sounds easy but as a matter of fact it’s hard work.

A sporting announcer, has a life similar to an actor on the stage. No matter whether he feels under the weather or not he has to suddenly “come to life” and take part in the game Itself whether the stock market goes up or down or it rains or shines. Sports broadcasts are handed in the same way as any other kind from a technical standpoint. Remote control equipment consisting of a two-stage amplifier and telephone equipment is located at the field near the announcer; the stadium or arena is hooked up with the radio station by special telephone wires. At the station the lines run through a speech input amplifier and then direct into the transmitter where it is broadcast to all those within range of the station. A radio operator is required at either end and telephone men are ready for any emergency.

Out of town pick-ups such as rugby games from Kingston and Montreal are handled in a similar manner only long distance lines are held open and more telephone men are used to make sure there is no hitch in the broadcast.

The main point in broadcasting sport is to keep up with the play. Detail is essential and listeners-in are just as interested in knowing about the crowd and their actions as they are in the actual description of the game. An odd joke or two helps to keep the listener in a good mood, but a little of it goes a long way.

Toronto’s First Sport Broadcast

Sports broadcasts for CFCA date back to March, 1923, when the first hockey game was broadcast from the Mutual street arena. The main difficulty encountered in this respect was to keep the cheers of the crowd subdued in such a way as to make the announcer’s voice clear and above the hullaballoos of an exciting game. It was agreed that a closed-in box was the solution, but the main problem was the size. First of all the box had to be on the rail so that the players could be easily identified. Then A.B. (Andy) Taylor, the rink manager, had to be considered. He raised the point that the box couldn’t be of any height as it would interfere with the spectators’ view. Another point was that the seats were practically all sold and only the space for three seats could be spared. Out of all these conditions CFCA’s first “coup” was built. It was 3 ½  x 4 feet and 4 feet high. It had glass on three sides with a heavy wire netting to protect the glass. A stool with legs six inches in height was placed inside and the stage was all set. The first broadcast nearly ended in disaster. When I did finally get in and closed the door all the air was cut off. In a few minutes my head started to go round. The heat of my breath blurred the glass and obscured the view. The game was between Kitchener and Parkdale and went 30 minutes overtime before Kitchener finally scored the winning goal.

The spectators in the rail seats, although warned before the game to keep their seats, leaned over the sides in such a way as to cut off any view of the players in the corner of the rink. The broadcast was completed with the microphone set out on the edge of the rail where the play could be followed. The cabinet was used many times after that but several holes were cut in the box to give the announcer an even chance to breathe.

In April 1923, the final game between the Granites of Toronto and Hamilton Tigers was broadcast from the rink in Hamilton. In those early days radio equipment was very crude. Instead of the complete remote control equipment of to-day only the ordinary telephone transmitter was used with the receiver off the hook dangling by your side. I was stationed on the players’ bench along the boards of the rink. During the intermission between the second and third periods we started to give the summary. Hamilton is one of the best sporting towns in the world and nobody denies it, but there were many there that night that wanted to tell the world about how good Hamilton was and to even more strongly stress how unimportant Toronto was. The barrage increased in intensity when a few loyal Toronto supporters started to talk back. Pandemonium reigned. To get away from all this turmoil I placed the telephone underneath the benches, crawled under and completed the preliminary story. The last period was hectic. Granites started off with a lead of two goals obtained in the first two periods and were trying to nurse their hard-earned lead. The Tigers, urged on by the frantic Hamilton rooters were in a frenzy. After ten minutes of play Tigers scored their first goal. Spurred on by this success they scored another two minutes later, tying the score. Alex Romeril, one of the Granite players, who was sitting on the Granite bench beside me, in his excitement picked up the dangling receiver and smashed it on the boards. That meant that while I could still go on talking I couldn’t hear whether it was going out or not. In the last five minutes a heavy mist came off the ice and the players disappeared from view every few minutes. The game ended in a tie score but as Granites had a lead from the first game played in Toronto they won the title. It sure was a struggle.

Girls Out-Talk Announcer

During the Varsity Grads-Port Arthur Allan Cup finals at the Arena two girls were seated beside the broadcasting booth. If there ever was a talkative pair they were “it.” They yelled and screamed for Port Arthur from start to finish. In desperation I made the mistake of asking them to be a little more conservative in their words of encouragement. It was just like throwing a match into a can of gasoline. They shouted even louder than before and capped it all by draping themselves in front of the box so that it made it well nigh impossible to see all of the play. A radio fan in some remote part of Saskatchewan wrote me and repeated a number of the things he had heard the girls say. If nothing else the two girls added lots of the so-called “local color” to the broadcast.

If there ever was a battle royal it was the eastern junior hockey final between North Bay Trappers and Kingston. North Bay led going into the third period 3 to 1 and looked like easy winners. Suddenly Kingston took a new lease of life and encouraged by the tremendous bellows of encouragement from Captain James T. Sutherland, which, by the way, cut into the microphone like a knife, the Limestone City sextet tied the score. In the next thirty minutes of overtime the packed arena went mad. Many frenzied North Bay fans in their eagerness to see the play scrambled on top of the broadcasting box and nearly upset the works. As fast as I would turn them away others climbed aboard so that over the radio it sounded like a broadcast of the thundering herd in full gallop. After that broadcast the booth was nailed down.

For our broadcasts of hockey games to-day a large platform is located under the rafters on the west side of the rink in line with the penalty time-keepers. While it is a considerable distance from the players all the corners of the ice are visible and there is plenty of fresh air as the broadcast is conducted in the open. At this height the roar of the crowd serves as good background but is not loud enough to affect the announcements.

At Opening of Detroit Olympia

I had the honor of broadcasting the first professional hockey game for WGHP Detroit on the occasion of the opening of the new Olympia rink last year. The Olympia is very similar to Madison Square Garden and is just about the same size.

Ottawa and Detroit were the two teams and the rink was packed with 18,000 excited fans. A university band of 150 pieces supplied the music and the tremendous double-decked structure was covered with flags. It was a wonderful sight and thrilled one to the core.

The remote control equipment, which took over a day to install, took up a section the size of a box at the Toronto Arena.

The microphone was placed on a pedestal right by the boards and I had to stand in plain view of everyone and at least 500 people in the rink could hear practically everything I said as the crowd was all around me. It was like delivering an address to the multitude, both seen and unseen.

Before the game the band paraded all over the ice and the thousands stood up and cheered. Just before the game the band played the two national anthems and then they were away.

The crowd readily took to the “fastest game in the world” and entered into the hockey match with as much pep and noise as they do for a world series baseball game. Ottawa won the game 3 to 2, but it was tied with five minutes to go so that the result was always in doubt.

Rugby is another sport governed by the elements which help to “put over” a broadcast.

It was two years ago and Varsity were scheduled to play Queens at Richardson stadium in Kingston. Varsity had to beat Queens to win the Intercollegiate title. The roof at Richardson stadium was never built as a point of vantage for a broadcaster; the roof slopes towards the ground on an angle of 35 degrees. The authorities believing that no one would ever be crazy enough to go up on top, had built only an iron ladder running up the outside of one of the corner towers.

As all rugby games should be seen from a height we decided that the root was to be our location. All the equipment had to be carried up this ladder, then on to a slippery tin roof and then held in place so it wouldn’t slide off. It was a drop of over 50 feet and when looking down and juggling a heavy battery at the same time it was no wonder that the equipment was not in place before one o’clock after two and a half hours of the trickiest work imaginable. Once up we hadn’t nerve enough to come down.

Luckily one of the operators had brought a lot of extra wire, so they put it around my neck and under my arms and lowered me to the edge of the roof. I put a soap box in front of me, placed the microphone on it, braced my feet on the flagpole and the eavestroughing and tried to make myself at home.

The game was so interesting that at times I would find myself just about hanging over the edge, but a short sharp tug on the wire and warning shout from above reminded me where I was. During the last period it started to rain. The bitter cold wind from the lake then changed it to hail and by the end of the game my clothes were frozen to the roof. I went to move and I was stuck fast. A none too gentle yank at the wire from above at the most inopportune time freed most of me with the exception of a certain amount of coat and I was dragged to the top. Queens won the game 3 to 1 and brought about the first three-cornered tie in the history of the Intercollegiate series.

Describing Rugby from Snowbank

The following week we ventured to Montreal for the first of the play-offs. All night going down on the train the snow fell so that when Montreal was reached it was a typical northern scene. On visiting Molson stadium, the McGill field, in the morning, there was more than two feet of heavy snow on the ground. Things looked hopeless for rugby. The Varsity team had failed to bring their snowshoes and were plainly worried. McGill had prayed for a dry field for their fleet half-backs and this was the answer.

I was sitting in a four-foot snowbank all set to go when a touchline official called the referee and pointed to us.

At 12 o’clock the sun came out and the snow stopped and the scrapers were brought on the field. For over two hours the men worked until the field was fairly well cleared. Huge snowbanks were at 30-foot intervals when the two teams took the field. The stands were jammed to overflowing and the McGill students were noisily confident.

As all the stands were open we put up our equipment along the touchline close to the 50 yard line. We had a long table with the radio equipment placed on it and I was sitting in a four-foot snowbank all set to go. Just as the game was to start a touchline official called to the referee and pointed to us. He promptly held up the game, came over where we were and ordered us off the field, claiming that some player might injure himself against the table. Things looked black. We moved back to the cinder track but that wouldn’t satisfy the officials, so we finally ended up in front of the McGill team’s bench. The sub players did everything but throw us out, but we stuck to our post and grinned and bore the abuse punctuated with snowballs from the McGill spares.

The game was wonderful. Varsity had McGill backed up on their own line three times before the Blue team was able to break the gallant red line for a touchdown; Stollery, the star U. of T. plunger, doing the trick in the last period. Up until then the game had been tied 2-2 with the battle see-sawing every few minutes. The Varsity supporters were wild with joy. The McGill team became desperate. On their own 30-yard line they attempted an onside kick. The kick was blocked and a Varsity player dribbled it over the McGill line and fell on it for a touchdown. There was no holding the Toronto supporters then. With a minute to go they rushed along the touchline in front of us, raving like a lot of maniacs.

I stood on the table, then climbed on a chair on the table to see over their heads, but it was hopeless. The whistle blew and the surge of the crowd carried both the chair and myself off the table. It was a wild stampede. But the equipment was unscathed. The next thing was to get Warren Snyder, the Toronto captain, to say a few words over CFCA. I rushed out in the centre of the field where a large mob had “chaired” Snyder. First I yelled, but it was no use. I tried to push the crowd the right way but this failed. In desperation I kicked one of the roofers on the shins and yelled “McGill” and then ran, but they didn’t chase me. l finally grabbed Coach Ronnie MacPherson and yelled “radio” in his ear. Instantly the word through the mob and I had to use what little speed I had to beat the crowd to the microphone. When I got back to the equipment I was out breath. Both Ronnie MacPherson and Warren Snyder said a few words to the radio fans and the broadcast was over. It took me over two hours after the game to take the mud off my clothes to make myself presentable to go to the hotel. On every step my feet would sink at least three inches into the ground. With all our work completed we just made the 11 o’clock train as it was pulling out of Windsor station. We got aboard while she was pulling out. This ended a hectic day in Montreal which started at 7 a.m.

Too Cold and Stiff to Stand

The final game at Toronto with Queen’s and U. of T. was another fine game with Varsity trimming the tricolor 8 to 0 for the college title. The blue supporters rushed on the field and hundreds joined in the snake dance. In all the excitement my new hat blew off and it lit in the midst of the wild-eyed throng. I’d like to gamble anything that every soul in that stadium walked all over it and knocked it further into the mud. After the crowd had gone we sent out a search party for the missing hat, but it was lost but not forgotten. My other hat had been crushed in the McGill mud the previous Saturday, but I had rescued it on its third time down.

The Ottawa-Varsity Dominion final was cruel. It was played at Varsity stadium on one of the coldest days of the year. A terrific gale blew from the north cutting right through everything. Expecting to be cold I wore an aviator’s helmet, two sweaters, a heavy coat and a pair of over shoes. I would have been just as warm with a pair of pyjamas. There was no holding that wind. It went through me in the first five minutes so that my jaw wouldn’t function. Some kind soul had set up two oil stoves right beside us, but the wind was so strong that it carried the heat right away. All it did for me was to burn my hand when I got excited when both teams were rushing after one of the many loose balls during the game. At the conclusion of the game I was positively frozen. I felt like Vierkoetter looked when he was taken out of the water this year in the Wrigley swim, and he looked terrible. I couldn’t move. I was as still as a poker. One of the operators who must have run over ten miles on the roof during the game to keep the blood circulating, punched me, rolled me over like a bag of potatoes and generally knocked me about for ten minutes before I could stand on my feet. I sat in the ticket office for over an hour beside a hot fire before I had thawed out sufficiently to go home. For the past ten weeks of the rugby season I had taken turns at getting soaked one Saturday and frozen the next, but had no ill effects afterwards. The following Saturday I went to a theatre and got a cold that kept me in bed for three days. Such is life!

Leadley’s Mustache Grew Rapidly

Last year’s Dominion final between Hamilton Tigers and Balmy Beach was another thriller.

As is the custom, all our equipment was set and ready by 1.30 p.m. At 1.45 the heavens cut loose with enough rain to drown us. As there is no shelter on the roof of the Varsity stadium we had to lie down and take it and try to imagine it was Saturday night. When everyone was really soaked the sun had the nerve to come out for few moments. The field was nothing but mud when the ball was kicked off. Balmy Beach stepped right into Tigers and before the much touted yellow and black clan had settled down the Beachers had gained a winning lead. During the game I moved from one puddle to another but each and every one was the same. I was the human sponge that day. I never realized before that I could “take in” so much water.

As all rugby fans know, the tricky “Pep” Leadfey has a Charlie Chaplin moustache. Oa catching one of Foster’s high punts he set sail for the Beaches line. Two of the purple and gold’s outsides hit Leadley coming and going and all three disappeared from view in the mud. When Leadley came up for air his moustache had grown one hundred per cent. He had a cake of mud under his nose that must have weighed two pounds. Exhausted as were the battling players several of them were seen to have a real laugh at Leadley’s expense. “Red” Moore, and all that the same implies, had his hair a purple shade after being doused in the slimy mud. Several of the players, after being tackled, did the breast stroke or Australian crawl before they realized they were playing rugby and not a contestant in one of the Wrigley swims.

At Maple Leaf Stadium

For baseball we are located on the roof back of the home plate where the play can be watched very closely. The main worry from the announcer’s standpoint is ducking fly balls. During the course of a game two or three fouls generally come too close to be comfortable. On one occasion a foul tip came up so fast that I didn’t have time to duck it. I stuck my hand out to protect the microphone and it hit me square on the wrist. As a result I couldn’t move my hand for two or three days after.

Of the boxing bouts handled by CFCA the Rocco-Gold flyweight battle was a standout. The two mighty atoms banged away at each other for the entire ten rounds. We were located close to Rocco’s corner at the side of the ring and in the intermission between rounds we would get some of the water meant for the battlers.

One of the chief difficulties of an announcer is to get a location from which to describe the event. For the Joe Wright reception the event was handled from on top of a ten-foot ladder at the back of the stage at Sunnyside. For the. Prince of Wales reception we were located on the alcove above the steps of the city hall. For the Granites Olympic hockey champions of 1924 welcome we were right in the throng on the platform at the city hall.

CFCA, as in hockey and rugby, was the first station to broadcast horse races direct from the track during the last four years of the Ontario Jockey Club’s meetings at Woodbine Park. These broadcasts have been graphically given by W. A. Hewitt, sporting editor of The Star. The microphone has been located in the back of the main stand directly in line with the finishing point. Race broadcasts due to the ever changing of positions and the bunching of horses is exceedingly difficult to handle. Even with powerful glasses the horses are hard to identity as they speed around the big mile track and must be “called” by an expert.

The second and third Wrigley marathon swims in Lake Ontario off the Toronto Exhibition grounds were the longest continuous broadcasts in Canada and probably in the world.

Last year for the second Wrigley swim we were located on top of the captain’s cabin of the S.S. Macassa, which was recently lost in Georgian bay with twenty lives. We cruised from 8 in the morning until 8.45 at night until the German swimmer, Ernst Vierkoetter, crossed the finishing line victor after the 21-mile grind. The day was long and tedious. The boat was too large to be handled and the two hundred press representatives aboard had a hard time making “copy” as the boat “parked” in one spot for hours at a time despite the repeated requests of those aboard to move on.

During the course of the day our boat took on over 30 swimmers that were forced out of the race owing to the cold water.

At 8.30 after Vierkoetter crossed the finishing line every whistle available was blown, the thousands on the shore cheered and the tremendous volume of sound stopped the short wave transmitter on the boat from oscillating. At the time I didn’t know that the transmitter was off and I must have talked for over 15 minutes to myself without my voice going out on the air. I got the actual finish on the air, however, and I suppose that was the big thing.

This year’s Wrigley and consolation swims were handled perfectly by the engineering staffs of all the Toronto stations. It was the wonderful co-operation of the local radio stations that made the swim broadcasts the success they were.

A low power short wave transmitter was placed in one of the cabins of Herbert Hatch’s yacht, the Toddy. Batteries were used in place of a generator and the transmission from the boat was clean-cut. At the Press building a short wave receiver picked up the broadcast from the boat and sent the announcements to the loudspeakers on the shore and over land lines to all the Toronto stations. There was not a hitch in the transmission at any time.

I think the worst experience on the boat was to hear your own voice come back at you from the loudspeakers on shore. No matter where we went out in the lake the voice would simply haunt you. During the dark hours that we fol. lowed Georges Michel, the French swimmer, out on the outer course, the voice could be heard coming back to me about four seconds after I had spoken into the microphone, and we were at least a mile out in the lake.

During that long night vigil in the pitch dark, with a cold wind blowing right through us, only snatches of the swimmer could be seen. It was like a dream. The multi-colored fireworks at the Exhibition made a weird sight out in the lake. A flash would show two or three power boats almost touching one another. Another flash and the tricolor of France would show up at the bow of Michel’s boat. The next minute our boat would scrape alongside an unknown craft. To add to the creepy feeling shouts would pass from one boat to another and on the still waters would echo and re-echo. Above all the noise on the lake, the screams and shouts of happy persons could be heard coming from the Midway. Without any warning somebody out in the darkness started to sing the “Marseillaise”; it was picked up from boat to boat until half a hundred were singing at the top of their voices in a different time and an unknown key. It was a case of every man for himself.

Fan Letters Greatly Appreciated

At 10.15 when Michel reached the last outside buoy someone shouted “he is out.” The twenty or more boats that had drifted practically as one suddenly put on a burst of speed to get a real view of the gallant swimmer coming out of the water. It was like a traffic light turning green. Our boat due to its quick pick-up and ably pushed by two or three others trying to beat us to it, was right beside the scene in no time. Suddenly the flares went up for the “movie” men and it was as bright as day. Every one blinked and it was hard to see anything after being used to the dark. Michel was all in when taken out of the water by four sturdy lifesavers, and was rushed to the hospital. With the race completed the boats threw caution to the winds and raced each other to the shore.

One of the most interesting sights during the swim was when the various swimmers were taken out of the water. In every case a heavy rope was put over the swimmer’s neck and under his arms and he was held by one of the lifesavers until help arrived. In Vierkoetter’s case it took five men five minutes to haul him over the side of the life-saving launch. Each time they got him at the edge of the boat he would slip back into the water, due to the heavy coating of grease and the dead weight. He was as stiff as a poker and had a glassy stare in his eyes as if he was dead. Most of the other cases were the same, but Vierkoetter was the hardest man to haul into the boat.

In the consolation swim broadcast we took George Young aboard to say a few words over the radio. In helping him on the boat Mr. A. P. Howells was covered with grease from head to foot and looked like a marathon swimmer. George seemed to enjoy getting grease on us as when he spoke into the mike he kept bumping into me until I looked like another contender in the swim.

In CFCA’s sports broadcasts for over five years we have received a great many letters from fans all over America. All the letters are greatly appreciated, but the biggest “kick” of all is to hear from places such as Christie Street Hospital, Hamilton, Gravenhurst and Weston Sanatoriums, patients in hospitals and from persons who are bedridden or have lost their sight. Radio has been a godsend to them and for the announcer to hear that he has brought a little ray of sunshine into these homes and institutions it gives a thrill that cannot be described in print.

There’s a big gang down at “Mike’s” place at Oshawa that attend the various sports via CFCA.

In Little Current a party of ten men close up shop every time a baseball game is put on the air. The fans up north crave hockey and around St. Catharines the boxing fans hold sway.

It is a wonderful listening public and all are good sports.

To be able to “see” the games for good Canadian sports on the radio is not work but a pleasure.


Editor’s Notes: Foster Hewitt is famous as an early sports reporter in Canada. I’ve included this full article by him, which is illustrated by Jim Frise. He worked for CFCA, one of the first radio stations in Toronto, and owned by the Toronto Star. some of the teams and locations mentioned in this story include the Toronto Granites, Hamilton Tigers, Toronto Varsity Blues, the Toronto Balmy Beach Beachers, the Allan Cup, Detroit Olympia, Richardson Stadium, and Molson Stadium. More about the “Wrigley” Marathon Swims held at the CNE can be found here.

Where are the Bartenders of Yesterday?

“The expression on their faces of some of the old boys, as they sipped pink pop, was more than I could stand.”

By Gregory Clark, September 15, 1923

Into the private office of the manager of a large wholesale establishment on Wellington street was admitted a middle-aged gentleman of refined appearance who told the information girl guarding the sanctum that he was an old friend of the manager.

The manager looked up as the visitor entered, stared at him with a look of puzzlement on his face, and smiled.

The visitor was smiling broadly.

“I have called,” he said, “to see if I could write you up for some insurance under a new plan my company offers men of your age.”

“Now, I’m pretty busy,” said the manager. Then, halting, he asked:

“Look here: I know your face well, but hanged if I can place you.”

Still smiling broadly, the visitor came closer to the manager’s desk. Laying his hat down, he snatched a newspaper off the desk, flicked it open, and, with a sudden movement, tucked it like an apron into his vest. Then, leaning both hands on the manager’s desk he leaned forward and said:

“What’s yours, sir?”

The effect was remarkable on the manager. He leaped to his feet and cried:

“Tim, you old scoundrel! Where have you been all these years?”

And the two set about shaking hands as if they were long-lost brothers.

But they were simply two old friends, a bartender and one of his pet customers, meeting for the first time after seven years of drought.

Tim was head bartender in the downtown bar regularly patronized by this business man for years. An intimacy had grown up between them such as few not habituated to drinking in bars can imagine. A formal intimacy like that between golfers and their old pro, or between a lady and her housekeeper of twenty years.

Making him seated and comfortable, the manager asked his old friend:

“What have you been doing?”

“Well,” said Tim, pulling on the cigar. “I have had some rough times. When the old establishment closed, in 1916, I had no plans, like all bartenders, and couldn’t believe it when the doors were really closed. The old boss offered me a job around the hotel as a sort of watchman. But I was deeply insulted. A soft drink bar was opened in the old bar, and I served exactly four days there, for some of the old boys came in, and to see the look on their faces as they drank a glass of pink pop was really more than I could bear. I felt fallen in the world. I felt unclassed. Without warning, for my kids were all grown up, I packed a valise and went over to the States. Not belonging to their union, I had a bad two years there. I was in several New York towns in succession, but getting further and further down in the mouth.

“When the States went dry, I hadn’t enough money to take me to Montreal, the last oasis. So I worked at odd jobs and darn near starved–“

“Poor old Tim,” stuck in the manager, with real sympathy.

“No, no. It was good for me,” said Tim. “While serving in a bar in Syracuse I made the acquaintance of an insurance man. Two years ago I met him on the street one day, and he gave me a job selling insurance.

“‘If a man who has listened to as many sad life stories as you can’t sell insurance,’ he said to me. ‘nobody can.'”

“So here I am looking up, one by one, all my old friends across the mahogany. Do you remember that sad story you told me one night–“

“Easy, Tim, easy!” implored the manager, a changed man after seven years.

“–about your fears for your poor family, and you feeling that your heart was in a delicate condition?”

“Tut, Tim I have a golf handicap of eight.”

At any rate, Tim drew forth, in the approved manner, his booklets and folders outlining in graphic style the proposition his company had to make to business men of fifty and over. And It was a good proposition, in spite of the sentimental appendages to the deal.

For Tim wrote his old friend policy for ten thousand.

Where are the four hundred and fifty bartenders who, up to seven years ago, were quenching Toronto’s thirst with beers, wines and liquors? Where are the skilful jugglers amongst them whom men traveled far to see, as they tossed a cocktail from glass to glass, a gleaming rainbow four feet long? Where are these repositories of the sad life stories of thousands of male citizens of this now happy city?

Their union is broken up. Thorough enquiries at the Toronto Labor Temple failed to discover Arthur O’Leary, former business agent of the Bartenders’ Union, in his heyday one of the most popular figures in the labor world.

Strange to relate, a good many of Toronto’s bartenders have stuck to bartending, even though the quality of the goods they sell is different.

In remnant of what used to be one of the longest bars in Toronto, now remodeled down to a mere fragment of its old glory, a bartender of twenty years’ experience admitted that he was too old to change his calling just because the law changed.

“Is there much difference between selling liquor and soft drinks?” he was asked.

“I feel,” he replied, “like a banker who has failed and has had to take up the grocery business for a livelihood. As a bartender, I was the friend and confidante of members of the business world, half the city hall staff knew me by name, city fathers took council with me, mayors have wept on my shoulder. In the old days, my customers were regular customers. But of that bunch–“

And he waved a contemptuous hand at a dozen people, mostly idle young men, lounging against the soda bar.

“–of that bunch I don’t know one. Never saw them before in my life.”

“What effect has prohibition had on your income?”

“I don’t get one-third the wages I used to make and I get no tips. My income is about a quarter what it was.”

“Prohibition has hit you hard?”

“Yes it has. But I still think the going of the bar is the best thing ever happened. I do, really. For one good bar, where men had a drink, there were three crooked bars where men got drunk. I never let a man get drunk off my bar in my life. Some bartenders considered their job was to rake over the coin. Some of us, however, figured our job was to serve refreshment to men. But we all got hit just the same.”

Most of the bartenders who are still serving drinks are serving them over the former bars of old hotels. Only a couple are in soda parlors.

A few of the bartenders have gone up in the world. One owns a good hotel near the centre of the city. Others have retail businesses, grocery, hardware and boot and shoe.

One very gifted bartender is now in charge of a gasoline station, and is serving up gas and oil without a hint, in the way he serves up a pint of “medium,” that he was in his day one of the most skilful drink slingers in the city.

But others, the older ones, have had a very poor time the last seven years. Some are jobless, some are janitors and handy men around old hostelries.

“It took prohibition,” said one old bartender, who has been out of a job four of the seven years since his profession quit him, “to show up how shallow was bar-room friendship. I had lived in it so long that I had begun to imagine it was genuine.”

“Men who called me affectionately by name when they ordered a drink, sports who got me to do favors for them, men I’ve cashed checks for, all turned me down when I called on them.”

“I wanted a job, recommendation. But a month after the bars were closed, most of them had forgotten who I was. Not three out of fifty of them held out the helping hand when I was in need.”

Perhaps the hardest part of prohibition to the bartender was not the loss of his calling, but the discovery of the fact that the bar-room affection that shed a glamor over his trade was as thin and unsubstantial as the beer fumes that induced it.


Editor’s Note: Prohibition went through all sorts of referendums and polls between 1916 and 1927 in Ontario when it was repealed. Greg was likely not in favour of prohibition, but his newspaper was. At the time of the article in 1923, Howard Ferguson had been elected Premier, and would move slowly and cautiously on limiting the restrictions.

Amazing Skill of Toronto’s Crack Girl Ball Players Draws Big Crowds to League Games

April 23, 1924

These illustrations by Jim accompanied an article by Fred Griffin on female baseball players. One of the unexpected delights of reading pre-World War Two newspapers is the emphasis on amateur sports in the Sports section, often giving near-equal time to women’s sports. From the article:

Consequent upon witnessing the game of baseball described below, the Canadian National Exhibition authorities made arrangements to have the leading teams of the Toronto Major Girls’ League and other crack teams from other parts of Canada play off for the dominion championship in the Coliseum. The games will be played on the evenings of Sept. 1, 3 and 5. Three games will be played each evening. This will give Exhibition visitors an opportunity of witnessing the newest and most interesting sporting development of recent years.

A Battle on a Grand Scale

By Greg Clark, August 21, 1926

“Be sure,” ran the memorandum, “to wear your old clothes for a rough time will be had by all.”

Chess is only one more of the innumerable games which has a big following in Toronto. And a chess tournament is a memorable sight. The tournament we witnessed was between forty members of the Toronto Chess Club and a single international expert and former world champion. To come to this scene in the Central Y.M.C.A. fresh from a baseball game touched the gamut of sport in one of the liveliest sport cities in the world.

The tables were laid in a hollow square. At each table sat a player with a friend at each elbow with whom he might consult. Around the inner side of the ring of tables walked the international expert, stopping a brief moment at each player to make his move and then on to the next. He played forty games against every other player’s one.

The large Y.M.C.A. room was crowded. Densely packed in back of the players were several hundred people, almost exclusively men, with eyes glued on to the nearest board. A complete silence reigned.

The players were of all ages. There was one old gentleman from Hamilton in his seventies. There was a boy of thirteen! There were university professors and mechanics, men run all to head and men all run to body, florid beef-eating men and pallid, biscuit eating men. But one thing they all had in common from the little boy and the very young men right through to the greyest head of all, and that was a peculiar air of contemplation which was fortified by a common mannerism-head rested on the hand and eyes glued to the board.

There is a stance in chess as there is in golf, tennis, bowling or anything else. Slightly sunk in the chair, each player sits forward enough to rest one elbow on the table, so that he can support his head on his hand.

As the great international expert arrives at his table the chess player does not look up. He wears a conscious, secretive expression, perhaps gently rubbing his head. The great expert looks at the board, glances shrewdly at the player’s downcast face, and then with a sudden, almost contemptuous gesture, makes his move. The player, his face unmoved except rarely by a faint smile that might reveal chagrin, never lifts his eyes from the board, but broods on and on, preparing for his next move.

Chess is a brooding, contemplative game. There appears to be hypnotism in it. The intensity of the attention which is directed down on that board for motionless minutes at time appears to be an effort to read some immense riddle, as if from some slight psychic gesture of the chessmen some hint could be got.

All the faces, after a little while, take on a blank expression as if the spirit had retreated to some far inner secret place. Hours and hours pass. The tournament started at 8 o’clock at night and the last of the games was not played until between 2 and 3 the next morning.

They say there is a peculiar type of mentality required for success in chess. In checkers, which is an infant’s game, there is life, movement, triumph, humor, action. It is a skirmish. Chess is a battle on a grand scale. The players try to read the riddle of enemy’s moves. Time does not enter into it. You could not dream of one of these players saying to another, “Come on, hurry up!” The players, for a fact, do not seem to be aware of each other at all. There is no human element visible. Abstraction settles down like winter night.

You can still see ping-pong played at the Y.M.C.A. There is still a lively trade in croquet sets at the big stores. Badminton – batting feathered shuttlecock across a net – takes up large space at the Armories. Every known form of card game has its devotees in Toronto, down to the queer fan-tan with buttons counted out from under an inverted saucer in the Chinese kitchens on Elizabeth street.

But for the remote extreme from those games of which huge grand stands and uproarious yelling is perhaps the most essential factor you must go to the brooding, contemplative, timeless abstraction of the ancient game of chess.


Editor’s Note: Fan-Tan is a form of a gambling game long played in China. It is a game of pure chance which has similarities to roulette.

Photo from “Our First Canadian Citizen”

August 1, 1936

In a news article about Sir William Mulock, a photo was included showing him with Greg when they were trout fishing.

It Had Its Baptism – Half a Million Men Were Its Godfather

By Greg Clark, July 11, 1925

Therefore The Maple Leaf, Borne Through Blood and Death, Has The Right to Its Place On The Flag of Canada – And The Spearhead That Foch Spoke About! – Here Is The Stuff of Which Flags Are Made and Tradition Is Perpetuated

Moved and seconded that the Canadian flag be the Union Jack with the Maple Leaf in gold emblazoned in the midst and the flag then mounted on a staff with a spear-head.

Fifty-seven thousand Canadian men lie on sundry half-forgotten hillsides of France and the low country with the maple leaf in brass on their breasts, though they be dust, enduring still.

Half a million Canadian men, with the maple leaf bright on their foreheads and on the collars, for four years made themselves known and marked in all of Britain, France, Belgium; in parts of the East, Saloniki, Egypt, Russia; and known, too, to every German.

In the Strand, on Princess street, Grafton street, the Rue da la Paix. Fifth avenue, the crowds would come alert and nudge one another when a plain figure in khaki, distinguishable from the hordes of brown only by brass maple leaves on brow and breast, went by.

“There!” they would say. “A Canadian! The fortress of Vimy – the quagmire of Passchendaele – the great spear-head of Amiens – the wolf pack that went with such a vengeful cry out from Arras, to Cambrai, Valenciennes, to Mons! A Canadian!”

We were known in every city and every village of more than half of Europe by a symbol, the maple leaf. Our clothes differed in no way from those of the British army, in which we served as a distinct corps. The Australian you could recognize a block away. We had only the little brass leaf. So we kept it very bright. There is no denying it: we were intensely proud of that small symbol. Men’s eyes, lighting on it, snapped swiftly to our faces. And we, conscious, stared back: conscious of fifty-seven thousand comrades left behind, on unfailing storied ground, near Ypres, on the Somme, on a certain impregnable ridge, in marshes by Passchendaele, and far and wide over a mighty battlefield of a hundred days, the hundred days of the spear-head, the days when we led the whole pack.

So the maple leaf, whatever shortcomings as a national emblem it might have had ten years ago, has no shortcomings now. It is hallowed and sanctified. Hall a million men went forth to give it meaning. Fifty-seven thousand men – and oh, that is many men! – wear it in their lonely graves.

If Canada’s performance in the world war has any meaning, national, international, imperialistic, political, then the maple leaf is important exactly in proportion to the importance of Canada’s entry on to the world stage.

When, at the Somme, we became a corps, and when, at Vimy, we got a commander of our own blood and bone, and the pride of our performance cost us no man knows what in life and death, we began to notice things. When we entered a soldiers’ hostel in the Strand, there over the central place hung all the flags of the British nations – the southern cross of Australia (and they with their distinctive, rakish uniform to boot!) – the flag of Africa, of India, even – and nothing for Canada save an ordinary marine ensign in error – we began to wish for something, too, of our own, that would symbolize the long miles between us and our home land, and the long generations far from the comfort and safety of these isles.

In the big canteens, back of the lines, again the flags of all the British nations, in each case the Union Jack with the marks of still further and greater unions on it – but nothing for Canada.

In the zone of battle a regiment goes by, columns of transport, of guns, and there, fluttering, the stars of Australia, and our guns bare and hard with never a shred of meaningful bunting on them, though their voices had as much meaning as any guns that faced the east.

The Meaning of Tradition

The Union Jack symbolizes the union of British races which founded the empire. The flags of the other nations that are growing up upon that foundation are, in every case, the Union Jack with certain further marks upon it to symbolize still further union and still wider empire. If Canada has been waiting for the right occasion to add her mark of union and of empire to the Union Jack, it has come. The maple leaf in gold emblazoned on the heart of the Union Jack.

The birth of a flag usually coincides with wars and conquests. Poetry and tradition are woven into it, if possible. Every old regiment in the world has certain honors and customs which it cherishes above all things. The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, for example, as a unit, salutes nobody but the King. That special privilege dates to the day King William’s horse ran away with him at a certain battle, and charging away from the firing line carried his majesty with great indignity through and scattered the King’s Own, which was marching to the fray. Recovering control of his steed, the king rode back and jokingly chided the colonel for not saluting the king as he passed; and he said: “From now on, this regiment salutes nobody but the king.”

And so it is. Another regiment drinks the king’s health standing with one foot on the mess table. Another breaks the glasses when the toast is drunk. The army and the navy are full of customs and special etiquette based on some treasured incident or precedent or privilege accorded in olden time.

Canada has just such a priceless incident to treasure if she has the imagination. Flags that have no tradition and symbolism in their weave are not flags but bunting.

After the great advance of the Canadian Corps at Amiens, when, with the crack French Tenth Army on their right and the Australians on their left, they thrust a great point into the German defenses towards Roy, Generalissimo Foch, the supreme commander, said: “The Canadians are the spear head of the allies.”

This is the stuff of which flags are made. If Caesar had said to one of his legions: “You are the spear-head of my army,” they would have passed those words to the ages, would have emblazoned spear-heads on their cuirasses and have worn spear-heads on their helmets. If a modern king had said those words to one of his regiments it would have been taken and treasured in symbolic form for all time.

Why not take the magnificent and historic compliment of the supreme commander of all the armies of the allies for a legend?

Let it be laid down officially as flag etiquette that in remembrance of Foch’s words, the Canadian flag, born out of that great conflict, be unfurled always and only on a staff with a spear head!

In every land, wherever the Union Jack of Canada be flung to the breeze, it must be on a staff with a gilded spear head, as part and parcel of the symbol. A hundred years from now, when other flags are flying, with whatever tradition their colors and devices portray, the Canadian flag shall fly on its spear-headed staff to remind all men and inspire our children with the historic statement of Foch on the occasion of Canada’s first appearance on the stage of the world as an entity and as a whole.

Here we have the material of tradition. There is this consolation. If we do not grasp it, probably our children will.

At the Olympic meet at Wembley last year, it was suggested by the British committee that all the empire contestants, in the great parade of all nations before the opening of the contests, be grouped together behind the Union Jack. The United States had hundreds of athletes in their section of the procession. Britain thought how fine and significant it would be to place the contestants from Canada, Australia, Africa, India and every corner of the empire in one grand and overwhelming battalion. The committees of the dominions thought differently. They decided definitely to march each behind its own flag in proper alphabetical order, in amongst all the other nations.

Canada Entitled to a Symbol

And they were right. The effect was this: A the procession of athletes of all nations, starting with A and passing through the alphabet, went by, nation by nation. And every few moments a British flag went by. Not one British flag but a score were in that great parade. One by one, the flags of the world went by the international throng, and first Australia with a splendid regiment of men carried the Union Jack and its marks of union and empire by. Then some more nations, and the British Isles went past, a great showing behind the Union Jack. Still more nations of the world, and then Canada. So the nations went past, one by one, and at the beginning and at the end came the flag of Britain with the escutcheons of her sons added. How Infinitely more imposing – this recurrence of Britain throughout that review of the nations -than had all the dominions followed under the one flag, the British committee realized fully as the moment passed.

But the flag the Canadians bore that day was not an official flag. Nor did it strike instant recognition by some symbol already known and respected from the eyes of the beholders from all parts of the world.

The objection raised to the use of the Union Jack with a device laid in the midst of it is that governors-general, lieutenant-governors’ and governors’ flags, from olden time, are the Union Jack with the coat of arms of the colonies they govern set in the middle. In the case of the Union Jack with the gold maple leaf emblazoned boldly in the centre, there can be no confusion with the governor-general’s flag, since his is the Jack with the Canadian coat of arms in the centre. The gold maple leaf without inscription of any sort laid in the heart of the Union Jack could have only one meaning, either here or in most of the countries of the world.

Artists must come into the discussion when the subject is a matter of color and form such as a flag. And the Group of Seven, intensest of all Canadian artists, might be expected to have some thought on the question of a Canadian flag.

“It is merely a question of time until we have a flag of our own in Canada,” said Lawren Harris, of the Group of Seven. “Canada is entitled to a symbol, because Canada is already as entity. The idea of the maple leaf, simply emblazoned, without scroll or legend, on the heart of the Union Jack appeals to me immensely. And the conception of the spear head appeals to me even more. For it is sentimental symbols of that sort which the inarticulate mass of people may take for their means of expression of the love of their country, above all others.”

And if there is any means by which Canada’s exploit in the world war can be preserved and brought to the notice and remembrance of all nations of the world could there be a more picturesque and romantic one than that flag etiquette should demand that flag to be flown only on a staff with spear head?


Editor’s Notes: This rather flowery article from 1925 was part of a movement for a distinct Canadian flag that developed after the First World War. Greg uses the term “ordinary marine ensign in error” to describe the use of the Red Ensign, Canada’s unofficial flag.

Ferdinand Foch was Supreme Allied Commander during the First World War.

Greg mentions the “Olympic meet at Wembley last year”. I believe he mixing up the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 held in Wembley, England, and the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Maybe the committee met at the Exhibition before the Olympics.

The Group of Seven were a famous group of Canadian painters.

The illustration behind the photos were by Jim.

The Light of Other Days Shines on The Dumbells

By Greg Clark, June 6, 1925

It was a full house.

The curtain was up. The theatre was filled with the music of a clever orchestra. It was a performance of the “Dumbells,” in their sixty-second week in Toronto.

A smartly-dressed chorus came out and then Marjorie appeared, long, lissome, with the old

remembered stride, so queenly, so graceful. And all of a sudden the scene faded. The solid walls of the Royal Alexandra melted away. The strains to orchestra grew fainter, fainter.

And by all that is queer we were all at once in a dirty old grey marquee, its side walls drooping sadly, and tall poles staggering into the gloom above, and a stage before us lighted with oil lamps shaded with home-made tin reflectors.

We were in the midst of a strange audience. It smelt strongly of wool and sweat and tobacco. It was bent forward tensely on its benches. It made not a sound.

Yet on this little ill-lighted stage before us, as on that Royal Alex stage which had so mysteriously disappeared a moment ago, on this narrow, shallow stage, there stood Marjorie!

In the shadows of one corner of the stage was a piano, and the pianist’s back was to us. A candle in a whiskey bottle gave light to his fingers.

What was he playing? “Hello, My Dearie!”

And there was Marjorie, swaying and leaning towards us, singing,

“… I’m lonesome for you;

I want you near me –

 Yes, honest, I do…”

Not as gorgeous a Marjorie as we had a moment before on the stage that faded. Not such stylish clothes. Not so lighted up with footlights to show the delicate blossom on her cheeks and the lovely red bow of her lips. A big picture hat, a pink dress to set off her blonde beauty. And a parasol.

But a lovelier Marjorie than the one that the Royal Alexandra had been showing. Look how this audience cats her up, drinks her in! Did ever an artist have such an audience? Pipes and cigarets are held suspended. Heads are hunched forward. Eyes stare hungrily at this vision in the half light. She sings to the end in a clear soprano with a delicious break in it. She backs bowing to the burlap wings. The grey old tent trembles and bellies to the tumult of applause that crashes out. The khaki audience yells and claps and whistles and stands up.

Beauty They Craved For

The soldier at the piano strikes a chord. Strikes it again for silence. And from the wings steps jaunty Al Plunkett, wearing an opera hat and a stylish mackintosh. He is the picture of civil elegance. Ah, how sweet to the byes of men doomed forever, it seems to sweating brown wool! Al is smiling his ineffable smile. He twirls his cane at us. He raises his voice in an odd, laughing, suggestive tone and commences his song, “The Wild, Wild Women.”

The audience in lilting and chuckling with him on their benches of hard, narrow wood. The chuckle in Al’s voice increases. The words of the song have the boys leaning forward and nudging their neighbors.

” … ferocious women,

Are making a wild man of me!”

The troops shout and laugh. “Encore! Encore!” Al obliges. Ho sing the last verse and the chorus. He is more elegant and urbane than ever. He is the spirit of all that is free and Independent, and never a bugle nor voice can make a difference in his life, this dark, opera-coated swell.

A brass band hunched down under the front of the tiny little creaky stage plays an entr’acte and the audience lights up and smokes and chatters. Out in the night, far, far away, sounds the bumble and mutter of the distant guns. But in this marquee, the “Dumbells” are making pretense, for a regiment down from the line for a few days, that there is no war, that there is a world of reality, full of beautiful, attractive women and dark, alluring men in high hats, somewhere only around the corner. And the audience talks loud and laughs for fear they might not believe that that far rumble is only the traffic of the streets.

Marjorie comes on again. Amid a riotous cheer. Who could believe that the hard integuments of Ross Hamilton are concealed under those fair garments? Marjorie is not a female impersonator in this old marquee. She is a very real and very great artist. An artist depends so much on his environment, on his locale. Well, this Marjorie, I assure you, this Marjorie, posing and swaying before the starved eyes of a thousand soldiers who have seen nothing beautiful, but only mud and destruction and death for months on end – this tall, beautiful girl parading before them in the lamplight, is a very true artist indeed. For she is touching those nerves in the spirits of men which only artists can touch. She is making them live outside themselves. They are not amused by a female impersonator. They are looking at a beautiful girl with eyes that have seen no beauty in many day.

“Songs My Mother Sang”

Marjorie departs amidst a tumult. A singer whose name we have forgotten, which is a deep shame, comes forth clad in a quaint old-fashioned costume, with a tall wand, and sings for us “The Cornish Floral Dance.” A delicate, fine, artistic song, but the brown, tangled audience drinks it in. It is beautifully rendered. And the hard-boiled audience knows it. They demand an encore. With greater fervor, the fine baritone pictures again the little street and the dancing figures that kiss as they dance along.

Lay figures come out from the drab wings of the stage and set up a sentry box and a brazier. It is not a fake brazier, a stage effect. It is a real brazier, And the coke in it stinks through the marquee. And Al Plunkett, not in his stage clothes, but in his real, everyday clothes, his khaki uniform, comes out in the gloom, with only the brazier fire glowing on his downcast face, and he brings that big marquee full of soldiers to tears. For he sings a sad song: “The Songs My Mother Sang To Me.”

You may have heard sad songs in your life and shed furtive tears. But Al Plunkett, in his homely uniform, bent lonely over that brazier in so familiar an attitude, with his mobile voice breaking pathetically as he hums such old sweet songs as all our mothers sang – the songs of the southland, Alice Ben Bolt, the lullabies, the baby songs – oh, soldiers in the gloom, so still, so still, what Mills bombs are these stuck in your throats, what unmanly wet is this smearing your cheeks, while Al Plunkett wrings your heart to shreds with his tender and crooning voice?

These were mighty artists, I tell you, who could fill a night with such tears and such laughter. For there is a black face comedian, and Mert Plunkett, Captain Plunkett, the stout manager of all this fun in a dirty old tent out in some turnip field of Flanders, Captain Plunkett is the interlocutor of the black men. Then there is an orderly room scene in which ridiculous officers strut and comic lead-swingers cringe in cartoon of the real thing this audience will be facing on the morrow. The pianist with the candle in the bottle shows what he can do besides accompany. He plays a bit of Chopin and the latest hit from London. The fine baritone sings “Roses Are Shining in Picardy,” and here we are in Picardy, and such roses as shine are red, red.

The grand finale: Marjorie and Al, a chorus of girls and men, and that was the “Dumbells” as they were in the beginning, away back in grey, dirty old villages of northern France, before they had the money or the artists of other concert parties to make up the show of today. A night full of tears and laughter, of dim lights and such incense as a soldier can send up to his high gods.

They were all great artists those days. They will have to toil hard ever to be a great again.


Editor’s Notes: The “Dumbells” were a vaudeville group formed by soldiers during the first World War. Since it was made up of soldiers, all female roles had to be played by men in drag. They were extremely popular, and launched a Canadian show-business phenomenon that was to last through 12 cross-Canada tours until 1932. As indicated in the article, they engaged in standard vaudeville acts of skits, comedy, singing, and dancing, which also included minstrel black-face acts since those were still acceptable in the early 20th century. Their popularity could also be the result of nostalgia on the part of old soldiers, such as Greg. Their act fizzled out as people grew tired of old war acts, the advent of “talkies” (movies with sound), and the Depression.

The Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto was built in 1907, and still exists today.

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