Unpacking My Toronto ► Iconic Buildings I Have Worked In

While I blather on and on here about Detroit, I do so more as an anthropological study than as a tribute to a once great ‘Merkin city. However, the place I truly consider my home town, no matter where I may be, is Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

I have had the honour of working in some of the most iconic buildings in Toronto, each known as much for its architecture as its history.

Queen’s Park:

When I was Queen’s Park Correspondent for Yorkview Magazine I had a cubby in the Ontario Legislative Building. My Press Card gave me access to many places the General Public could not go. Among my favourites was The Press Gallery, way up on the upper reaches, where journalists would whisper snark back and forth, no matter who was talking, no matter which party. It would have been bad form to create a commotion, so a lot of very loud laughter was stifled. The next day–the very next day!!!–Hansard was delivered to my house by regular mail of the session I just watched, minus the snark. That was less interesting. Witness to history: I was there the day the Mike Harris Conservative government fell to a vote of non-confidence. And, good riddance!

The CHUM/City Building:

I worked in this beautiful building for more than 10 years. I started as a
Security Guard, after driving cab. It was something I could do while continuing to write freelance
articles for several Toronto publications. However, when a News Writer job opened
up in CityPulse, I was eventually hired and spent 10 years on the news desk. I called myself ventriloquist
because I put the words in the mouths of the meat puppets. However,
working behind the scenes in the newsroom (which meant I was on camera
every day, because the newsroom was also the set) was good experience
for later writing about Fox “News” for NewsHounds. Witness to history:
January 8, 1992 – I was on the International Desk the day President George H. W. Bush puked in the Japanese Prime Minister’s lap. That sent
me scrambling. Worst Moment: Learning in real time from the
police Sargent that the accident victim in the single car crash on
Coxwell I was writing about was a dear friend’s father. Best script ever: I once got Kevin Frankish to read “A pair of purple plovers picked a patch of parking lot to procreate.”


A&A Records was a mainstay of  Yonge Street (which can never be mentioned without also pointing out that it’s the longest street in the world). It tried to be as large as its competitor Sam the Record Man 2 doors south and they could match each other discount for discount. However, Sam’s just had more obscure records than did A&A’s.

A&A was not the first time I worked in a record store (nor would it be the last; another story for another day). I had, several years previously, worked at Round Records on Bloor Street just east of Yonge (see above) where the Holt Refrew Center now is. (Izzit still there?) Round Records was the first of its kind in Toronto: A new & used record store, with seating for relaxing, run by a knowledgeable staff. It was owned by Larry Ellison, who signaled his Hippie status in 2 ways: his long pony-tail and beard were never cut and he was decked top to bottom (including shoes) in denim. It wasn’t unusual to find a Rock and Roll musician popping in. It’s where I met and befriended Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, aka Flo & Eddie, after Frank Zappa no longer had any use for them. But again, that’s another story for another day.

Larry had himself a goldmine and the record store was making money too. However it had happened Larry had signed a 99-year lease at 46 Bloor Street West, just a stone’s throw from the busiest intersection in the city, the crossroads of Toronto. Larry had been holding up construction of the Holt Renfrew Centre for several years. They kept offering him more and more money to break the lease and he kept holding out until he was the last property on the entire block that had not taken a buy-out. The construction company had put up hoarding around the entire block, except for the small opening that led to the second-floor location to Round Records. Finally they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. It was a sad day when Round Records closed and it was never replaced in the hearts and minds of Toronto record buyers.

 Working on Yonge Street (see above) was a dream come true. When I first moved to Toronto from Detroit I marveled at Yonge Street. There was nothing like it in Detroit, a thoroughfare where you would see street action. In Detroit the word “pedestrian” had been stricken from the dictionary. On Yonge Street one couldn’t walk without bumping into one, literally. I came to Toronto in ’71 and, in my opinion, saw the last great years of Yonge Street, through the pedestrian mall days, before Eaton Centre changed the entire complexion of the street.

I lost my job at A&A because I came back from a lunch break reeking of ganja smoke. I don’t know how the hell that happened.

Yonge Street Post Office:

This building still on the corner of Charles Street and Yonge Street. When I worked there it was Mr. Gameway’s Ark, one of the craziest places I ever worked. Partially it was what was sold: Games and toys naturally lead to all kinds of buffoonery. However, it was also the staff: Each one an eccentric character on their own led by owners Peter and Maggie, who were like camp counselors to an unruly bunch of kids. I ate my lunch in the captain’s chair of a full-size replica of the bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise that had been constructed on the third floor. Witness to history and biggest regret: Some guy wandered in one day and asked us to invest in a game. We all played the game. It was a lot of fun, but only one of us had the $1,000 to invest. That game was Trivial Pursuit and our co-worker made a lot of money.

Old City Hall

This is stretching the point because I didn’t work at Old City Hall. I
couldn’t receive phone calls or mail there like I could Queen’s Park. I
didn’t even have a cubby. When I was a Law Clerk my work would take me
to Old City Hall 2 or 3 days a week. I would wait in line like
hundreds of other people to get documents filed, stamped, served,
notarized, collected and distributed. If I had time to kill between
dropping documents off and picking documents up I would pop into one of
the courtrooms, a habit I will still do to this day if I am killing time
near a courthouse.

A big h/t to the facebookery fun of Vintage Toronto, that got me thinking about these places and supplied the pictures. Thank you. Go there. There are thousands of pictures grouped by year and several Then and Now albums.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.