What exactly is north? And can a story about the taking of a photograph in Toronto in 1972 be considered a northern tale? What if that memory of taking the Toronto photo was experienced in Timmins, Ontario on a frigid -30 C afternoon on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 2015?
Here is a photo I took of John Calabro in and around 1972, I’m guessing. John is my oldest friend (since 1969) and the best man at my wedding to Cheryl Agoston in 1983. This photo of a silhouette of John ahhem…smoking, was taken at an abandoned high-rise south of St. Clair Ave. East off of Bayview in Toronto.
The newspapers of the day commonly referred to this place as the Bayview Ghost. The 7 story apartment building was started in 1960 on the border of the old City of Toronto and East York.
John and I used to have this postering business when we were high school students whereby many Toronto theatres such as he St, Lawrence Centre Stage, Tarragon Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, sometimes Factory Lab and Toronto Workshop Productions would hire us to plaster the city with the posters to promote upcoming productions. We even did one for the O’Keefe Centre to promote Katherine Hepburn’s appearance at what is now the Sony Centre.
We rode our bicycles to as many construction fences as possible through out what was then known as Metro Toronto. It was during these bicycle forays in quest of fresh construction fences that we discovered landmarks such as the Ghost of Bayview and others.
Location of course was everything. We figured if we could plaster the construction fences along Bayview and other highly traveled locales, we would be able to increase the exposure to the poster as the volume of commuters along that route was quite large. In the process we hope to increase the ticket sales for our clients.
John carried the glue bucket and two large glue brushes suspended from the handle bars of his bike that he probably assembled from various parts. John had a knack for putting bikes together from remnants of discarded bikes. He carried extra powdered glue in a knapsack. When we ran out of glue we would stop at a gas station, fill the bucket with water and mix a new batch of glue.
I carried the posters on my regal black Raleigh English Gentleman’s bicycle that my dad purchased for me from a very nice English man who rented the upstairs of our home on Davenport Road. His name was Arnold “Ted” Parkes and he was a bus driver for the Toronto Transit Commission. My black Raleigh had a carrier at the back and we would strap about 50 to 100 posters to it. In what was my first exposure to alternate energy sources, the black Raleigh came with a headlight that operated on pedal power. My pedaling produced the energy that powered my headlight. The faster I pedaled the brighter the light. The light would be considerably dimmer if I was tired pedaling home in the dark after a long day’s work.
If my memory serves me well, the reason the 7 story apartment building on Bayview south of St. Clair Ave. East was abandoned had to do with a territorial dispute over conflicting by-laws in Toronto and East York having to do with the provision of water services. There may also have been some dispute over the height of the structure as it was nestled in the northern outreach of Rosedale. The abandoned building was a magnet for a variety of nefarious activities partaken by youth and the homeless. There were also several reports of falls, injuries and I believe at least one death, which led to the eventual demolition of the structure before the owners could get the municipalities to make the appropriate by-law changes to complete the construction. I will have to research the old newspapers to get the specific details…in the meantime,here is the photo I took of John Calabro in the Bayview Ghost or the Ghost of Bayview in 1972 or there about.
For those interested in the technical details of the photo. I was using my Asahi Pentax with a Hannimex 250 mm long lens. I recall being about 10 to 20 feet away from the window where John was lounging leisurely and lighting a cigarette on the unfinished picture window of one of the suites on the first floor. I wanted to achieve the silhouette effect caused by the back lighting of the outside light. In the darkroom I had to expose the photographic paper longer than usual in order to get the background images of the field and the house visible. We have come a long way with the development of digital photograph.
The Asahi Pentax was my most precious position back then along with my black Raleigh and my darkroom. The Pentax was sold to me by Yvon Dumais, a grade 9 student who moved to Toronto from Sudbury to attend high school in 1969. We became great friends. We both joined the football teams at Oakwood Collegiate in 1969. I joined the bantam squad and Yvon joined the Junior squad. Unfortunately, at the very first practice Yvon broke his wrist. When healed Yvon went on to compete on the wrestling team.
Yvon lived with his older brother Richard in a rooming house on Pinewood Avenue, a block east of Christie St. and St.Clair Ave. West. His brother worked for Foster Advertising, operated by the legendary Toronto ad man Harry Foster. Richard gave Yvon the Asahi Pentax camera as a present in hopes that Yvon would really take to photography and thus help his younger brother find something that he would love and perhaps grow into a career.
But Yvon didn’t take to photography as much as I did and being the good friend that he was, Yvon sold me the camera so I could continue my passion for photography. In a great gesture of friendship and generosity Yvon sold me the the Asahi Pentax for $60. I paid for it with the money that I earned from the postering business. I was overjoyed because as much as I loved my previous camera, a Praktica SLR, the Asahi Pentax was top of the line. A Cadillac compared to the beat up American Motors Rambler that was my Praktica.
It was a few months later that Yvon left our high school, Oakwood Collegiate and indeed left Toronto as he signed up with the Canadian Armed Forces and was whisked out to Camp Cornwallis in Nova Scotia to begin his basic training.
In hindsight I now understand that Yvon sold the camera to me because I would not accept it as a gift…a gift he was offering in friendship because he would be far from Toronto. Insisted he should get something and off the top of his head said “Ok…give me $60 bucks.” I was very grateful for Yvon’s gesture.
I didn’t see Yvon again. At least I don’t remember seeing him again after he joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1972 or 1973.
Over the 2014 Christmas Holidays I visited with John Calabro and his family who have been living in a house on Pinewood Ave since the 1980s. I am certain their house is across the street from where Yvon Dumais lived with his brother in 1969 and 1970 on Pinewood Ave. Later I remember visiting Yvon in a small apartment on Avenue Road north of St.Clair and then one last place a white multi-story apartment building on the corner of Spadina Road and Bernard.
And I am equally certain that I am writing this Northern Blog because my visit with John tied together the photo I took of him at the Ghost of the Bayview, the Asahi Pentax camera I used to take the photo and the fact that Yvan the person who sold me the camera lived on Pinewood Avenue 40 years earlier.
But there is more. After I returned to Timmins, Ontario post-New Years, I had the opportunity to travel to Sudbury to cover an event at the Goodman School of Mines. I picked up the phonebook and found a Y.Dumais living in the Greater Sudbury area. I called him. At first he was cautious when I asked him if had gone to Oakwood Collegiate, but then he opened up and acknowledged he was my long lost friend Yvon Dumais. Which is more than I did 20 years ago when he tried to contract me via email and asked if I was the Frank Giorno who went to Oakwood Collegiate. I was going through one of my frequent depressive phases…I had separated from my wife. I was not in a good frame of mind. I never acknowledged his emails or phone messages. I regret not doing so.
Perhaps that old photograph of John Calabro, a great friend for so many years, taken by the generous gift, for that is what it was, from Yvon Dumais, an good friend from the days of our youth, was really meant to re-unite me with Yvon. The trip to Sudbury on January 15 and 16 gave me the opportunity to connect with him.
I visited Yvon and his wife and daughter at his comfortable home nestled in nicely treed lot. Birds of several varieties were constantly landing at his backyard feeder. I didn’t know this, but in 1976 Yvon suffered a major health challenge and particularly extreme form of arthritis that doctors feared would force him into a wheel chair for the rest of his life. But it has been 38 years and Yvon being the scramper that he is wrestled that arthritis to the ground. He is able to walk and get around with some pain, but he didn’t let his illness defeat him.
Although Yvon didn’t take to photography he developed and immense talent as an artisan working with wood, leather and other materials. I was really floored by the quality of his wooden toys, wooden trains, trucks, backhoes and trams, puzzles and leather bags and purses. His basement is crammed with intricate tools that he applies in pursuit of his hobby.
It was difficult to leave as there were still so many stories to tell from our lives over the 42 years since we were students at Oakwood Collegiate in Toronto. But we both live in the North now and though I am in Timmins 400 km to the north of Sudbury, I will be returning to Sudbury frequently and I will be sure to stop by and visit Yvon,the friend who gave me the Asahi Pentax at the low price of $60… a price I insisted I pay.
This February 12, 2015 I will be turning 60 years of age. In March I will be giving my daughter Sophie the Asahi Pentax and the lenses as a birthday gift as she has developed a passion for conventional photograph. I just wanted her to know the story behind this wonderful camera and and the good friend who sold it to me for next to nothing.
And that is my Northern Blog for today. Looking out the window at the snow and cold of Timmins, Ontario while remembering events that happened in the summer or early fall of 1972 at the Bayview Ghost in Toronto forty-two years ago and the generosity of my friend Yvon Dumais.