Monday, May 25, 2009
Layers of History: Where we live!
The magic of where I live is Spadina. This is one of the earliest streets made and named in my city of Toronto. Many here do not realize how much history past and present lives on this street. The neighborhood went from a wealthy stately residential street to a working class factory street in the early days of Toronto. By the early 20th century stately houses were torn down to build multistory brick "Schmata" factories where scores of Jewish, Irish and Italian immigrants sewed many of the "ready wear" garments that clothed the Eastern Seaboard. My neighborhood became known as the Jewish Market, but today is now Chinatown. Many of the remnants of the heyday of the garment industry still linger under the signs and floorboards of mostly original buildings.
The name originates from the Ojibwa word ishpadinaa meaning "be a high hill or sudden rise in the land. This native history created a street which housed garment factories, booze cans, bookmakers, and underground economies. The famous Jewish American anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman died in a building across the street from me. Amelia Earhart discovered her love of flying on the south end of the street, and contracted her lifelong ear infection that eventually may have contributed to her death during WW1 working at the Spadina hospital for veterans of the war. My good friend at Grants Wholesale not only lent Mr. Kraft money to help start his famous farming and food business, but turned down Levis Strauss for exclusive rights to sell the famed denim in Canada back in the 50's. Sometimes I forget the history when I walk up and down my street, looking in on the Rotman's Haberdashery selling hats since before the war. And every once and a while a sign is ripped out revealing the generations of business' behind it. Moishe's tavern..or a famous theater or rooming house. This place bleeds history and schmata.