Saturday, March 7, 2009

Heritage: Boom Times in Swansea

The cast of Boom Times Cabaret stood after their performance at the Swansea Historical Society on 4-March-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - No, Swansea hasn't escaped the worldwide recession. Instead, for one evening during the meeting of the Swansea Historical Society on 4-March-2009, the boom times of the neighbouring onetime city of West Toronto were re-lived through the "Boom Times Cabaret: Heart of the Junction Talk Show" presented by the West Toronto Junction Historical Society (WTJHS).

The show, which has been performed since the celebration of the centennial of West Toronto becoming a city in 2008, features conversations with historical figures from the early 1900's, played by modern residents. Neil Ross plays journalist A.B. Rice as host, and interviews the other cast members, portraying a variety of figures from Chief of Police Josiah Royce to principal Mary Cherry to coroner and mayor G.W. Clendenan. I was especially pleased to see local historian Madeleine McDowell playing the Junction's first librarian, Elizabeth MacCallum--an arm in a sling wasn't enough to keep her away.

The amount of historical information--both large things and small details--that one picks up from events like this always amazes. I actually didn't know the origin of the name of Clendenan Avenue--it turns out it was named after D.W. Clendenan, who had purchased much of the land around the Junction before the boom. It wasn't named after G.W. Clendenan, but I learned that the historical figure in the show had lived at the location on Dundas Street that now features the "Junction Stage" that looks like a train station.

Between McDowell's portrayal of librarian MacCallum and Kristen Buckley's portrayal of Cherry, there was a definite feminist theme to the show. To modern audiences, it is shocking to learn how little MacCallum was paid, but heartening to learn that she was chosen as the first librarian when she believed they would find a man instead. Cherry had to go through a period as "acting" principal since the job was expected to go to a man, but became so locally popular that the woman who held the key to local playgrounds and opened them up for the public was eventually given the job outright.

The performance also included the poem Last Call (Before the Junction Goes Dry), a fitting tribute to an area well known for its historic aversion to alcohol.

For those interested in more historical re-enactments from the same team that prepared Boom Times, there will be a repeat of Amalgamation Night 1909 on its 100th anniversary on Friday, 1-May-2009. Watch the WTJHS web site for further details as the time approaches.

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