Thursday, November 05, 2009

Wild in The Junction: WTJHS Historical Mystery Tour

Photo: Wild Junction, Historical Mystery Tour: West Toronto Junction Historical Society Fundraiser and Pub Crawl, October 25, 2009Photo-Collage: Wild, Wild Junction, a Historical Mystery Tour:
West Toronto Junction Historical Society Fall Fundraiser and Pub Crawl
Sunday, October 25, 2009 @

WTJHS Historical Mystery Tour
asks the question:

"How wild do you have to get to shut down your own bars?"

By David Wencer

For nearly a hundred years, you couldn’t buy a drink in the Junction. In January of 1904, the citizens of the town voted to enforce local option, which enabled Ontario communities to voluntarily “go dry.” What caused the Junction to take such drastic measures?

On Sunday, the Legends of the Junction, a troupe of real figures from Junction history, recruited and lead by Junction historical society Vice-President/Boom Times Cabaret director Neil Ross, took some fifty people on a pub crawl, re-enacting events on the road to Local Option.


Samantha Martin belted out the Junction’s "national anthem", Junction Bound, then the historical characters and the audience considered the mysterious death of Joseph Curley in 1897. Curley had been drinking at the Subway Hotel (west side of Keele and Vine) with unsavoury characters. Later his body was found with his head crushed in under the Subway underpass. Did he fall or was he attacked?

Coroner George W. Clendenan (Gib Goodfellow) convened a coroner’s inquest and swore the audience in as jurors. Testimony was given by Junction Police Chief Josiah Royce (Ron Clark) who found a blood stained boulder near the body and Junction librarian Elizabeth McCallum who provided evidence of local footpads. Both Dr. Clendenan and Chief Royce were strongly inclined toward accidental death.

A.B. Rice was appointed chairman of the jury and then performed the Shooting of Dan McGrew with pianist Alice Deardon. (Rice was in fact the foreman of the jury, although his quoting Service may be apocryphal.)

The tour hit the street in search of more evidence, passing numerous historic sites, including the Avenue Hotel (Domino’s Pizza) which like all Junction hotels served its last drink on June 30, 1904.


The audience filed in to the sounds of When the Saints Come Marchin’ In to witness Annette Street Methodist Church’s Rev. T. E. E. Shore (Cheri DiNovo, MPP) resurrect the famous Harlotry, Iniquity and Vice sermon which galvanized the town in 1903. Rev. Shore attacked big business, liquor and the Liberals, not necessarily in that order.

REV SHORE: Many a poor fallen girl has told me down in yonder mission how she fell into sin and continued in her degradation in Junction hotels!


Soon outside again, the next stop was the corner of Keele and Dundas, from where the jury could see the underpass where Curley’s body was found that fateful December.


Foreman Rice turned the floor over to the jury and they peppered the historical characters with questions about Curley’s death. How far was the second bloodstain from the body? Had it been snowing that night? Was it a light snow? What exactly is a footpad? In the questioning, new evidence emerged about the suspects: the violent robber sought by the police and the mysterious motorman witnesses claimed was last seen with Curley.

Rice gave the jury the choice between "death by misadventure" or "murder by person or persons unknown" and called the vote. Twenty two to twenty two! Like the Junction a hundred years ago, the town could not make up his mind. As foreman, Rice himself cast the deciding vote for murder, citing footpads and Curley's pub companion as chief suspects.

Rice then provided some insights into cockfighting in the Junction, recounted the night ten thousand men surged into the Junction for one last drink; he then went; on to praise the Junction theatre district.

Mrs. Mary Brown (Eileen Jensen) recalled the Junction during the dry years and Anne Leung, "the Junction’s Rosa Parks". And finally, the landlord Gus Koutoumanos explained the historic story of how alcohol was eventually brought back to the Junction in the late 1990s.

The real cause of Josephs Curley’s death may never be known. Was it murder? The available records of the time suggest a great number of viable suspects. The case made a riveting background for a different kind of historical walking tour: with interactive historical characters, a coroner’s jury, gospel songs, an old time temperance sermon, a view of the scene of a crime and a spirited discussion of a hundred year old cold case by a modern audience in a pub.

Only in the Junction.

2009 © David Wencer

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