Toronto, Chicago, Al Capone, Billie Holiday, Prohibition & the Winchester

Chicago mobster Al Capone made himself at home here.  Billie Holiday sang from the stage.  Hooks in the ceiling supported a trapeze used in burlesque acts, and some of the biggest entertainers of the 1920’s and 30’s played for the locals.

While MONTREAL was entertaining gangsters in its nightclubs and bars, staid TORONTO was busy making rye whisky at the huge Gooderham and Worts distillery on lower Parliament Street.

It was a natural fit for Al Capone and the mob.  Buy the booze in Ontario, transport it to Windsor, then through the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, or on an intercity ferryboat, and onward to thirsty Americans.  At its peak, in 1928, Windsor-Detroit had anywhere from 16,000 to 25,000 speakeasies, blind pigs, clubs and joints.  The patrons were drinking booze made 250 miles east in conservative, church-going, teatotaling TORONTO.  The waterways separating Windsor and Detroit saw a huge part (one estimate: 75%) of the alcohol consumed in the United States during Prohibition.

<ABOVE – customs officers at work during Prohibition>

CAPONE6<ABOVE – Al Capone’s hangout – the Winchester Hotel bar in Cabbagetown>

4-D TORONTO jigsaw puzzle glows in the dark . . . like the city itself

4-D jigsaw puzzle designed by TORONTO entrepreneur Shaun Sakdinan – scale replicas of TO and other cities around the world.  Says Shaun: “When you get the puzzle complete, it teaches you the history of the city.  You’re recreating time.  If you want to take a rest you can leave it at the skyline in 1970, and experience how it was at that moment in time.”


The Metro, last of our old-time ‘adult’ cinemas, has closed.

Back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s TORONTO had a few tough little cinemas – mostly scatterd along Yonge Street from Gerrard to Queen.  Two of the – the RIO and the BILTMORE were rather sleazy dens, playing 3 or 4 movies for a pittance.This was TORONTO’s 42nd Street and 8th Avenue all rolled into one or two blocks.  In the 70’s, 75 body rub parlours were added, along with strip clubs, drug dealers, and Cinema 2000The METRO, an outpost of the Yonge Street strip, recently shut down for good.  It was on Bloor Street West at Manning Avenue, in the heart of Koreatown.  Life for the Metro began on April 7, 1939, with a double-bill – “Delinquent Parents” and “Looking for Trouble” – and a fire!  The opening night fire broke out in a storage room, and caused the evacuation of 700 patrons.  No serious damage was caused, and nearly everyone returned to watch the second feature.

“Oil”, 2003, EDWARD BURTYNSKY, our ‘star photographer’ & Ryerson grad

“Oil” celebrates the work of TORONTO photographer and Ryerson University alumnus, EDWARD BURTYNSKY.  One of the world’s most respected and recognized contemporary photographers, Burtynsky’s images explore the effects of oil extraction, our dependence on the substance, and the reality of oil production.  PHOTO – Oil Fields, Belridge, California, 2003, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery