Post Your Opinion
Douglas Fetherling - Smug Swagger
by Douglas Fetherling

This is partly a notice of Marilyn M. Litvak's book Edward James Lennox: "Builder of Toronto" (Dundurn Press, $19.99 paper) and partly a fable on the subject of context.

When you stumble on the name Al Capone in Colombo's Canadian Quotations you find the entry: "I don't even know what street Canada is on." Was this a chauvinistic wisecrack or a genuine profession of ignorance? As John Robert Colombo does not regard heavy apparatus as part of his mandate, readers are left to do their own research.

Colombo, it turns out, found the quotation in The News Game, a 1966 autobiography by Roy Greenaway, a Toronto Star reporter of the 1920s and later. But Greenaway was giving only a précis of an interview he had had with Capone thirty-five years earlier, concerning allegations that Capone had been spotted at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, a building-see how all this comes together?-designed by the architect E. J. Lennox.

When one goes back to the original story, of February 27, 1931, one learns that there were rumours in Toronto that Capone, in late 1930, at the start of the income tax troubles that would soon bring him down, had been spotted in the city by reliable witnesses. This led, in Greenaway's words, "to questions of whether he had ever been mixed up in the affairs of W. Perkins Bull, K.C. [a colourful Rosedale resident of the day], whether he had ever known Rocco [Perri, the Hamilton bootlegger] or Mrs. Perri, whether his gunmen are at present in Toronto, and whether it was true that he had bought a cigar at the cigar stand of the King Edward Hotel three or four months ago when the hue and cry was hot after him in the United States."

Here comes the context and its importance.

Greenaway wrote: "In his best, most dignified, most serious manner, Al denied any acquaintanceship with Mr. Bull. Never heard of Rocco or Bessie Perri. Never had he been in Canada. Never had he bought a cigar at the King Edward.... `Is it not enough that I am the Robin Hood of the United States,' [his] smile seemed to ask, `without becoming the bogeyman of Canada as well?' Greenaway then related the testimony he had from various Torontonians who had encountered him and his royal guards. `Chewing vigorously at his gum he launched his masterpiece, `I don't even know what street Canada is on.' "

The King Edward opened in 1903, well in time to be the de facto headquarters of the Cobalt silver rush of 1907, when, to quote myself, "Desk clerks did not look askance when dirty men in moccasins walked across the marble lobby beneath the cut glass chandeliers [and bellhops] grew accustomed to carrying heavy bags of rock samples." In Memoirs of Montparnasse, John Glassco sought to illustrate what he believed to be Morley Callaghan's provincialism by recalling that Callaghan had compared some overly mirrored Parisian bistro with the King Eddy back in old T.O. The hotel, which is remodelled every generation or so, is now (for the second time) one of the flagships of Lord Forte's fleet of (mostly British) hotels. With its showy opulence, it is precisely where Capone would have stayed.

In short, it is a landmark (Lennox specialized in landmarks-to-be). But as such it has had its ups and downs, giving people certain memories of it at various stages of ascendancy and decay. Glenn Gould's father was a furrier whose shop was in the hotel. The connection to the clothing business remained strong in my time, when (at the hotel's low point) the entire mezzanine floor was used as display space by wholesalers of cheap ready-to-wear. It still had its association with prospectors, too.

In fact, in the 1960s it was a refuge for people who didn't know that the 1920s had ended. Gregory Clark, the convicted humourist whose huntin' and fishin' tales appeared in Weekend, lived in the King Eddy for many years. I once had to interview him in his suite about his long-ago association with Hemingway (in his opinion, a high-brow intellectual). In 1969, the King Eddy was where John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their Bed-In for Peace-why there, I can't remember. But the recollection is brought back to me by reading Litvak's short but well-reasoned biography of Lennox, who, in the generation before his death in 1933, was the most famous architect in Canada.

Despite the block-at-a-time razings of the past two or three decades, many of Lennox's other private, public, and commercial buildings still stand. One is Toronto's Old City Hall (the kind of Richardsonian Romanesque municipal building and courthouse built across North America in the 1880s and 1890s-remember the Minneapolis one in the opening montage of the early Mary Tyler Moore show?). Another Lennox project, Casa Loma, has become a tourist attraction of national importance, drawing about half a million visitors annually from various parts of the world. Such monuments have outlasted the celebrated works of his contemporaries but not the sense that Lennox was perhaps more responsible than anyone else for giving Toronto the swagger for which it is so unanimously detested by other parts of the country. His buildings are an excellent symbol for what it is about Toronto that residents of other places dislike: they and the city are big, self-centred, smug.

Based on the recollections of those who knew him, Lennox was more respected than liked. But then he was respected a great deal, and with reason. Today he would be stigmatized as an over-achiever. He was born in Toronto in 1855. His father, an Irishman, ran a grocery in what was even then called Cabbagetown. In time, though, the old man did well in real estate, and the example may have inspired Lennox. One would like to think so about a person who did much to create the present character of Toronto, where so many people have made their killings the same way.

In those days, one became an architect by apprenticing and then by looking at the historic buildings of Europe. Lennox had already done both by 1877, when at the age of twenty-two he went into partnership. Five years later, he was out on his own. By the time he was thirty-five, he had one of the largest practices in the country, with clients queued up for two or three years.

Toronto was already heavily dotted with his buildings when Lennox beat out architects from a number of countries for the City Hall commission. The fact that he landed the job meant that he had found his way into the civic bloodstream. The good burghers of Toronto liked his style. Subconsciously-probably consciously too-they saw in his buildings the perfect reflection of the image they held of themselves and wished to impose on others. The people in power wanted an architect who would emphasize their self-confidence, their stability, and most of all their commercial supremacy. Lennox was the natural choice.

He also had a somewhat refined flair for self-promotion. In 1905, for instance, he published a book about himself and distributed it to prospective clients and the press. It was illustrated with photos of "a few of the more prominent buildings" he had undertaken-nearly sixty in fact. He designed the mansions, near-mansions, and elegant townhouses of persons residing on such then posh streets as Church, Jarvis, and Sherbourne.

Jarvis Street, for instance, had long been the turf of the Masseys. Lennox was too late on the social scene to design their homestead, but he did become the Massey family architect in all but actual title. When Massey-Harris needed a new head office (on Massey Street naturally), Lennox got the job. He was also chosen when Hart Massey wanted to build Massey Hall, long the city's main concert auditorium, as a memorial to his son Charles. Furthermore, he got the nod when the family decided to erect a skid row dormitory and soup kitchen, named the Fred Victor Mission after another member of the clan. Lennox was even called on to design the family's mausoleum.

He was the favourite of the local power elite, building their homes, their summer cottages, their offices, their stores, and often even the churches they attended; occasionally, he designed a factory or some other kind of utilitarian building. His standing is partly explained by his ability to bend to the tastes of his clients. This was fine so long as the clients had any. But then came Sir Henry Pellatt, the man who commissioned Casa Loma.

Pellatt, although he diversified into many fields including mining, shipping, and meat-packing, is usually associated with electricity. He was the person who established what is now Ontario Hydro, but was then the privately owned Electrical Development Co. (His power plant at Niagara Falls was a Lennox design). This made Pellatt so rich that he built a home that, when construction was halted by the outbreak of the Great War, had ninety-eight rooms, thirty bathrooms (some with good fixtures), twenty-five fireplaces, three bowling alleys, and a shooting gallery. He wanted various parts of his castle to emulate those he had seen in Europe. For this reason, he persisted in making it a hodgepodge of almost unrivalled incongruity.

Someone had to design this monstrosity to Pellatt's wishes and supervise the construction; Lennox, of course, was the person. After Casa Loma was completed, however, Lennox did very little building, though whether from embarrassment or from age is impossible to say. He did, however, erect a more serious and more handsome house directly across the street from the castle. He acquired the two acres on which it rests in a side transaction to Pellatt's major deal. On his lot, Lennox put up a building of stucco and stone with a graceful roof of red tile, and there he lived out his days.

Litvak's book is full of unusual archival photographs, elevations, and the like. Litvak is also general editor of the "Canadian Master Architect Series" of which this book is part.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us