On Thursday, August 14, 2003 at 4:11 PM, everything stopped.
In my memory, two big events occurred in Toronto that summer of 2003: one was SARStock and the other was the power blackout that affected all of Ontario and parts of Northeastern and Midwestern United States. It was the world’s second most widespread power blackout in history, with 50 million people affected by the outage. For some, the blackout lasted a couple of days, for others it was as long as 14 days, depending on where you lived.
Ontario originally caught the blame for the gigantic outage, but over time the source would be traced to a stretch of road in suburban Ohio. Weak areas in the electricity grid of U.S. and Canada further exacerbated the situation.
For a high-level technical explanation of the situation, I’ve borrowed some text from blogTO.com.
August 2003 had been a scorcher. Hot weather and heavy demand for electricity had put the local grid in Ohio under unusual strain, causing power lines to sag into overgrown trees and short out. When the Eastlake coal-fired station near Cleveland went offline it was like knocking over the first in a line of 50 million dominoes.
One by one, power stations across the northeast U.S. became overloaded then automatically powered down as they tried to compensate for other downed stations in neighbouring areas. The blackout rolled northeast from Ohio, round Lake Erie into Ontario, knocking out power to cities and towns as it went.
Systematic faults meant tools used to track and monitor blackouts either failed or didn’t work as intended. Ontario was left 8,000 megawatts short – 500 megawatts usually spells trouble – as nuclear plants in Bruce, Pickering, and Darlington became hopelessly hobbled. When the blackout finally stabilized, 50 million people were left without power in the United States and Canada.
Maybe now they’ll learn to shut the lights off up there…
An American woman on a local newscast, trying to blame the outage on Canada’s power consumption
My memories of the 2003 blackout in Toronto
At that time in my life I was still working at Canada Life Assurance in the downtown core of Toronto, at Queen Street and University Avenue. I remember the outage hitting just at the start of everyone’s commute home from work. It foiled a lot of attempts to get home that Thursday afternoon – the GO trains weren’t running, there was no subway, the downtown core was so clogged with cars that no one could move. Out of our team of about a dozen people at work, I was the only one who lived downtown so guess where everyone came for food, rest and some strategic planning to get home.
It was Vince’s day off that day so he was at home. He had put on a huge slow cooker of stew early in the day, which luckily was now ready. I had been unable to reach him to let him know that there would be a dozen of us descending on the house but the phone lines were all overloaded and jammed so it was impossible to get through. It was a big surprise for him when a dozen people showed up on our doorstep for dinner! Over the course of the next 4-5 hours we all ate stew, had lots to drink and watched the Jarvis Street pedestrian parade and revelry from our balcony – oh, the sound from the streets! It was one really big party out there – the streets were jammed with people, cars and party fiends who were simply making the most of the unusual event.
Cell phones did not work, as cell towers are powered by electricity, during the blackout, so there were only land lines available (imagine no cell phones for a day!) Using my one wired phone on a land line, one by one my guests for the evening took turns using it to call home to arrange a pickup or to give a status update.
When you have a dozen guests who are eating and drinking for any length of time, there is an inevitable need to use the bathroom. When you live in a high-rise, one of the downsides of a power failure is the lack of water (the water is electrically pumped up to the units), so guess what – the toilets can’t flush. The bathroom turned into a communal toilet during the course of the evening (was I ever glad when the water came back on!). It was all good though, as by the end of the evening everyone found their way home, be it by cab, shared ride or pick up by a family member (no Uber or Lyft in those days).
For about three days, the hustle and bustle of Toronto came to a stop. People slowed down, became friendlier, and just seemed to enjoy life a little more during this unusual time. I have memories of Vince and I sitting in the food court in College Park, just killing time along with so many others. These were calm, happy, patient people – something you rarely find in downtown Toronto. Our part of the world, or so it seemed, had stopped all its rushing about and bustle.
Meanwhile, In New York City…
Chaos reigned supreme:
It was an amazing and unique time no matter where you lived in the blackout region. I’ll never forget that hot summer of 2003 when the lights went out.
It’s that time again: Fall – my favourite season! The weather is cooler and the evenings are crisp. It’s also the most colourful season with the trees displaying those gorgeous shades of red, yellow and orange.
I made a few photo expeditions around the city this Fall to capture some of the changing leaves; here’s a small sampling of what I found:
As we all know, COVID-19 has squatted over Toronto Pride this summer of 2020 and taken a huge dump. When it was announced that all large events – or any event for that matter – in the City of Toronto would be cancelled this year, including my beloved Pride, I was crushed beyond measure. Toronto Pride will be celebrated this year with “Virtual Pride” which, to me anyway, defies logic. Virtual Pride?? How exactly does one do a Virtual Pride, for God’s sake? No thanks… I want the real thing.
Pride week in Toronto has always meant so much to me and, as a gay man, is an essential experience in my life. In my world, Pride is more important than Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving all rolled into one. No other event brings such happiness, energy, enthusiasm, celebration, vitality and warmth than those few days in late June every year. Even though time and tide have scaled back my activities considerably from Pride weekends past, I still celebrate the occasion and feel joy in my own way on that special weekend.
I believe my first “Pride Day” (as it was then called) was 1985. I have wonderful memories of those early Pride events when they were just a half-day long (always on a Sunday afternoon) and held in Cawthra Park (now the Barbara Hall Park, which has become a haven for junkies, crackheads, crime, muggings and harassment from street trash who have overtaken the place… but I digress…).
Those days, Pride was held within the boundaries of Cawthra Park, if you can imagine. In the late 80s/very early 90s the event spilled into a small section of Church Street above Wellesley, with the epicentre being the 519 Church Street Community Centre. Across from the 519 was the only stage, set up in the parking lot of The Beer Store. At about 9:00 PM that night (at the latest), the police would reopen Church Street to traffic, and cars would resume their usual pace down Church Street as if nothing had happened that day.
I remember those Pride Days as being pretty much a white, male, middle-class event, long before global inclusion and the alphabet soup that now describes our community (LGBTIQA+ or whatever the hell it currently is). From those early Pride Days, I have memories of local gay hero Harold Desmarais singing a personally-penned protest song to Art Eggleton, the then-mayor of Toronto who had refused to proclaim, or even acknowledge, Pride Day (as it was then called). Harold served as the Master of Ceremonies for Pride Day festivities from 1986 through 1989. I also have memories of Jack Layton acting as auctioneer, auctioning local goods and services from a little makeshift stage behind the 519.
As for some of the Pride Day music I remember, local alternative band The Nancy Sinatras played a set for a couple of years at Pride, where they belted out some wonderfully tacky, kitschy and downright rude songs from the stage set up for the day in the Church Street Beer Store parking lot. The Nancy Sinatras were about as “Queen Street West” as you could get in the late ’80s; they were awesome.
In those days, the AIDS Memorial behind the 519 Church Street Community Centre did not exist. I remember the temporary AIDS memorial that would go up for Pride Day each year before the permanent one became a reality. This was a terrible time in our gay history, with AIDS claiming so many men in those early days.
For this post I had desperately hoped to find some photos I had taken of those early Pride events that took place on Church Street and in Cawthra Park. I slowly perused my carefully curated photo albums (physical pictures… remember those?), but alas could not find any shots of Toronto Pride street scenes from the 1980s, at least none that were of any interest. I do, though, have extensive shots of almost every Pride Parade from 1986 to 2006.
Sooooooo, as to not totally lose the Pride spirit this year, in lieu of a physical Toronto Pride 2020, I offer some good bits from years past to put us in the mood and lift our spirits.
I now present to you Toronto Pride, warts and all. Let’s go back…
On Church Street…
I Love A Parade…
Ah, the memories…
This year I’ll skip “Virtual Pride” but will still proudly fly my rainbow flags from the balcony, trying my best to resurrect the spirit of Pride.
I’d like to end this post with a positive, feel-good message from our Ward 13 City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam; I couldn’t have said it better myself:
When the pandemic is behind us, we will come together again. We will fill the streets, the restaurants, the bars, the civic spaces, the dance floors. And when we do it will be the loudest, most colourful, most fabulous Pride celebration in this city’s history. I look forward to joining you on that day.
It had been a busy and hectic day at work last Friday. Walking home I suddenly spotted something unusual coming toward me in the distance. At first I thought I was seeing things courtesy of my fatigued state, but as it drew closer I see it was…
Pikachu to the rescue!!
Thank you, Pikachu! It was great to have a smile and laugh during our troubled COVID times.
We’d been wanting to do a ghost walk of Toronto’s Distillery District for some time so we bought our tickets for the night of July 6th. One figures with a historic place like the Distillery District there’s bound to be some hauntings and a few lost souls lingering about.
The company hosting the walk was The Haunted Walk. They also have offices in Ottawa and Kingston and we have taken their tours while visiting each of these cities. The tours from this company were fun and enjoyable so we thought we’d try out one of the tours a little closer to home.
The Distillery District walk was called Ghosts and Spirits of the Distillery. Our guide was fantastic – very personable and his voice was loud and clear. The stories he wove of the creepy happenings in the Distillery District were fascinating – but – the downside to the walk was the torrential rain pelting down on us just as the tour started. Here’s how it went down (literally):
The rain did finally let up and we were able to finish the tour, albeit feeling quite soggy. Post-tour we took refuge and sustenance at CACAO 70 Eatery – nothing like great chocolate to soothe the soul!
It turned into a nice evening just as we were leaving (of course). Here’s a parting shot:
I’d like to do this tour again sometime to get the full spirit of the thing. Hopefully next time the weather gods will have some mercy on us!
It had been four years since I’d photographed the annual Bloor-Yorkville Icefest. The weather finally cooperated this year and gave us below freezing temperatures which preserved the beautiful sculptures of the ice artists (unlike the last couple of years, when “Icefest” became more like “Dripfest” due to very warm temperatures). It didn’t hurt that the organizers finally moved the event to early February this year instead of the customary late February.
This year’s theme was “Hollywood North”, inspired by the success of the film industry in Toronto and Yorkville. Some of the sculptures included an Icefest Cinema facade, paparazzi, a giant box of popcorn, a projector and an iconic Oscar. There was also an “Icefest Lounge” featuring some smooth sounds with DJ’s from Bellosound.
You’ve probably read the title of this post and thought: “Whhaaaaa??”. It’s an unlikely combo at first glance: the film Star Wars: A New Hope coupled with the TSO (Toronto Symphony Orchestra). Not so weird actually.
What a brilliant idea. Over the span of the next couple of years the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is performing the John Williams-composed Star Wars soundtracks live while the movies are projected larger than life in the background. These concerts take place in the still-somewhat-elegant Roy Thomson Hall.
Starting with the 1997 re-release versions of the “original three” (as I like to call them), the first concert up is Star Wars: A New Hope; this is the production we went to last night. It was fantastic to hear that amazing John Williams soundtrack *really* brought to life by the TSO.
You don’t realize how much music, both prominent and incidental, there actually is in a Star Wars film; this concert really brought the music to the forefront. The TSO were absolutely superb and every musical detail was faithful to the original motion picture soundtrack (except the “Cantina” scene in the Mos Eisley bar – the filmed version was played here). Sarah Hicks did a brilliant job conducting the orchestra, who played to an absolutely packed and very enthusiastic house. No less than three encores were called after the performance/film completed.
Here’s a few shots from last night’s performance. These were taken before the performance began and during the 15-minute intermission at the movie’s halfway point:
Star Wars: A New Hope played on the nights of January 23, 24, 25, 26, 2019. The rest of the Star Wars Film Concert Series is scheduled as follows:
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – March 20, 21, 22, 23, 2019 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – October 2, 3, 4, 5, 2019 Star Wars: The Force Awakens – May 6, 7, 8, 9, 2020
I’m sure more are to follow as time goes by, and I can hardly wait.
There were two memorable events in Toronto during the summer of 2003: one was the massive power blackout covering most of northeast North America and the other was SARStock.
Held on July 30, 2003 at Downsview Park (previously a former military air base in the north end of the city), the event was a gigantic, marathon rock concert to benefit Toronto’s economy and help it recover from the SARS epidemic. The concert was organized in about a month upon the suggestion of concert headliners The Rolling Stones. The Stones, by the way, love Toronto – they have played in our city many times and, utilizing small clubs like the Phoenix or the Palais Royale, they frequently practice and perform here prior to setting off on their major tours. Toronto has some not-so-fond memories, though, for Keith Richards; this is where he got busted, tried and sentenced for heroin possession way back in early 1977.
This massive concert in Downsview Park went by many names – Toronto Rocks, Stars 4 SARS, Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto, SARSfest, SARS-a-palooza, the SARS concert, The Rolling Stones SARS Benefit Concert – but I affectionately call it SARSstock as it seems the most apropos. The Rolling Stones donated 50 percent of the proceeds (an estimated $1.3 million) from their merchandise sales to two relief funds set up for the event, and $1 per ticket was also donated towards the funds. The net proceeds of official merchandise was also donated towards the relief funds.
Official crowd estimates put the number at 500,000 people attending the concert, but it felt (and looked) like far, far more than that. The unofficial crowd estimate was over a million people so I don’t know who to believe. Regardless, SARStock made the record books as the largest outdoor ticketed event in Canadian history, and one of the largest in North American history.
It was an all-Canadian event: vendors sold Alberta beef in support of the Canadian beef industry, which had recently suffered because of a case of mad cow disease. In gentle, polite, mannerly, well-behaved Canadian style, there were no major security incidents that day, which was amazing given the crowd size.
Co-hosted by Canada’s own Dan Ackroyd and Mike Bullard the band lineup was a mish-mash of Canadian (English & French), American and English talent, mostly retro acts but good retro acts if you know what I mean. The day’s lineup was:
The Have Love Will Travel Revue
The Tea Party
The Flaming Lips
The Isley Brothers
The Guess Who
The Rolling Stones
And all of this for only $21.50.
Each band (full concert setlist below) performed for about 15 to 20 minutes but stage/equipment teardown and setup for each act seemed to take forever. There was a lot of people scenery between acts, however, to keep anyone occupied. The Stones and AC/DC sets each took over 90 minutes, so you could certainly tell who the headliners of this gig were.
This was one of the best and most fun days of my life. My memories of that day are:
In my entire life, I’ve never been in a crowd this large – that in itself was an experience. You can imagine the chaos of over a half-million people sprawled pell-mell on the grass with no organization whatsoever. If you had to leave your group for whatever reason, the only point of reference for your return were the numbered speaker stacks in the audience. If you failed to notice the number on your speaker stack there was little chance you’d ever find your group again. I remember it taking me over an hour just to get to the water and toilets – I missed Justin Timberlake’s set entirely (oh noooooo!) while I was gone, so I failed to witness firsthand the legendary water bottle-throwing incident (more on that, below).
It was one of those rare summer days in Toronto where, instead of haze and humidity, the sky was absolutely clear and deep blue, not a cloud in sight, and it was HOT, very hot!
Party. Absolute, sheer party. Period.
I spent this day with my good friends Janice, Richard and his son Pete. What a great time we had. I’ll never forget Janice smuggling in her bottle of vodka. The security line we were in at the entrance gates was conducting frisk-searches, so Janice hopped over one line and – as luck would have it – they bypassed her for a frisk search. Happy days.
Here we are as we stepped out of Downsview subway station to make our way to the concert grounds:
Justin Timberlake was booed by the crowd, who were anticipating the harder-rocking second half of the concert. Throughout his performance he had to dodge water bottles, toilet paper, muffins, and other items thrown by the audience. This was definitely a hard rock/classic rock crowd and Timberlake was the odd man out with his lightweight pop styling. He later returned to duet with Mick Jagger on Miss You; at that time the crowd was scolded by a visibly pissed off Keith Richards for their earlier treatment of Timberlake.
THE GUESS WHO
So awesome to see the original lineup back, if even for a precious few numbers. To me, the Guess Who is synonymous with growing up in the early 70s on the Canadian prairies – their music was everywhere and was entrenched in our culture. My older brother was a big influence in my memories and impressions of the Guess Who; he had a few of their earlier records and played them often around the house (strains of Albert Flasher, No Time and New Mother Nature drift through my mind when I think of those days).
THE FLAMING LIPS
The Flaming Lips invited artists from backstage to dance on stage with them dressed in fuzzy animal costumes. I, for one, was never a Flaming Lips fan… I just don’t get them…
I am not an AC/DC fan by any stretch of the imagination (OK, OK, I owned a copy of Back In Black as a teenager… who didn’t?), but they put on a show like the city has never seen; they absolutely stole the entire concert. AC/DC played a balls-to-the-wall (as they used to say in the ’70s) 70-minute set. Most of the crowd were there expressly to see AC/DC and didn’t really care so much about the previous acts. AC/DC were onstage just before the headlining Rolling Stones, but the AC/DC set absolutely blew away the crowd, driving them into a frenzy. I’ll never forget Angus Young dropping his pants and mooning the audience with an enormous Canadian maple leaf emblazoned on his shiny boxer shorts.
When the Stones finally did take the stage it was anticlimactic, almost bordering on disappointing, compared to the live bolts of lightning that was AC/DC. It was truly an odd thing: a huge amount of people began to leave during the Stones set (sorry, I can never get this thing of leaving in the middle of a performance to beat the traffic home – such an annoying Toronto thing).
Here’s a YouTube that shows the intensity of AC/DC as they played for the massive audience that day:
CLOSING OF CONCERT & THE JOURNEY HOME
As you can imagine, it takes quite a while for a crowd of half a million or more people to disperse. People were slowly drifting away halfway through the Stones’ performance but Richard and I stayed until the very bitter end to see the last cannon fired, so to speak. I believe it was somewhere around 1:00AM when we made our way out in the departing wave of humanity (Janice and Pete had left earlier in the evening, long before this mass exodus). It was absolutely impossible to get back on the subway at nearby Downsview station, so we walked all the way across Sheppard Avenue West from Downsview Park to Yonge Street where we somehow were able to get on the Yonge line with tens of thousands of other people heading home.
I’ll never forget that walk Richard and I took across Sheppard Avenue with so many of the other concertgoers who also decided to walk to Yonge Street. It was a crowd tens of thousands strong, and there was such a crazy party vibe in the air – absolute jubilation, with everyone still on a high from the heat and music of the day. When we did finally reach Sheppard station on the Yonge line it was jammed beyond comprehension, so we waited in queue for about another hour until we could stuff ourselves on one of the trains (the TTC had arranged to run all night that night in order to get everybody home). We finally got out of the packed subway at Yonge and Bloor and made our way home across Bloor Street East. All told, it was about 3:00AM when I stumbled through my front door. Luckily Richard and I both had the next day off work, which was a Friday.
Here then, for posterity’s sake, is the setlist for the entire day. I’ve tried to be as complete as possible but there may be one or two songs missing here and there. I compiled the setlist from my own DVD copy of the concert and several miscellaneous Internet sources, so there could be some inconsistency. For the most part, though, the day’s music ran as follows:
The Have Love Will Travel Revue (Dan Ackroyd, Jim Belushi & supporting band) Intro With Skybox Ballroom Pump
Sam Roberts Don’t Walk Away Eileen Brother Down Where Have All The Good People Gone?
Kathleen Edwards One More Song The Radio Won’t Like Mercury 6 O’clock News
La Chicane Viens Donc M’voir Le Yâb De St. Nitouche Le Fil
The Tea Party Temptation Sister Awake Heaven Coming Down
Blue Rodeo Trust Yourself Hasn’t Hit Me Yet Lost Together
Sass Jordan High Road Easy You Don’t Have To Remind Me Brand New Day Make You A Believer (with Jeff Healy)
The Flaming Lips Race For The Prize Do You Realize?
The Have Love Will Travel Revue I’m Gonna Dig Myself a Hole
The Isley Brothers Fight the Power I Want to Take You Higher It’s Your Thing Put Yourself In My Place Who’s That Lady Summer Breeze Shout
Justin Timberlake Señorita Cry Me a River
The Have Love Will Travel Revue Time Won’t Let Me
The Guess Who Hand Me Down World No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature Takin’ Care of Business (BTO cover) American Woman No Time
Rush Tom Sawyer Limelight Dreamline YYZ Freewill Closer to the Heart Paint It Black The Spirit Of Radio
AC/DC Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be Back in Black Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap Thunderstruck If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) Hells Bells The Jack T.N.T. You Shook Me All Night Long Whole Lotta Rosie Let There Be Rock
Encore: Highway to Hell
Rolling Stones Start Me Up Brown Sugar You Got Me Rocking Tumbling Dice Don’t Stop Ruby Tuesday You Can’t Always Get What You Want It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It) Miss You (with Justin Timberlake) The Nearness of You (Keith Richards, lead vocals) Happy (Keith Richards, lead vocals) Sympathy for the Devil Rock Me Baby (with Malcolm & Angus Young from AC/DC) Honky Tonk Women (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Encore: Jumpin’ Jack Flash
A DVD of the day’s concert was released later in 2003, although it has omitted quite a few of the original tracks. I assume this is to fit the concert on a 2-disc DVD release. That’s a pity, as I’d like to relive the concert as a whole, regardless of how many physical discs are required. The DVD is probably no longer produced and marketed, so it remains a keepsake item for me.
There has never been a crowd and concert like this in Toronto, before or since. It was truly a unique experience and I’m so very glad I was a part of it. I’ll never forget that hot, cloudless, wonderful day in Downsview Park.
I’d been meaning to capture The Bay’s Christmas window displays at night for quite a while now so I took a little spin down to Yonge and Queen last night to see this year’s offerings.
The windows are quite good this year but, sadly, not nearly as extensive as they were prior to the merger of Saks Fifth Avenue in the same building. Prior to Saks, the Christmas windows continued all along Queen Street East and rounded the corner on to Yonge Street. Nevertheless, it was fun to shoot these charming displays:
I was running some errands downtown last weekend and had to make a stop in 80 Spadina Avenue (above King St.). This building at one point in time was an old Toronto warehouse which has been converted into artist spaces, studios and photo reproduction companies, among other things. I spotted an old-fashioned, decommissioned safe in the building’s hallway and found it interesting; I have a penchant for historic items such as this.
I love the not-too-subtle message about employees caught tampering with the combination…
On August 18th of this year I took a photowalk along Danforth Avenue. I started at Broadview Ave. and finished at Greenwood Ave., at which point I crossed the street and returned to Broadview, snapping all the way.