Riverdale, Toronto

Aerial shot of Riverdale, 31 December 1941

Riverdale is a large neighbourhood of Toronto. Its boundaries are Lake Shore Blvd. (south), the Don River Valley (west), Greektown and Danforth Ave. (north), and the Jones Ave. section of the Canadian National Railway and GO Transit tracks in Leslieville (east).

It was annexed to Toronto in 1884, and has long been known as very multicultural. This was a neighbourhood many immigrants came to—Irish, Greek, Russian, Italian, German, Polish, Finnish, Ukrainian, British, Chinese.

Many Riverdale houses are Victorian and Edwardian, having started life as boarding houses for the proletariat in the 19th century. Sadly, since gentrification has struck, many long-time residents have been priced out and replaced by hipsters and the bourgeoisie.

Lower Riverdale contains the neighbourhood’s six original houses on the west end of Simpson Ave. They’re known as The Six Sisters.

29 July 1931, looking north on Carlaw Ave. at Gerrard St.

18 October 1912, Danforth Ave. at Don Mills Rd. (now Broadview Ave.), looking west

7 July 1913, northwest corner of Danforth Ave. and Don Mills Rd. (now Broadview Ave.)

Riverdale contains many sub-neighbourhoods:

Lower Riverdale (the oldest section, with many original houses)
Upper Riverdale (most likely to have modern, renovated houses)
East Chinatown (Toronto’s next-largest Chinatown)
Badgerow (contains a Sikh temple, the legendary Maple Leaf tavern, a Jewish cemetery, Gerrard Square’s shopping mall, and a Turkish cultural centre)
Studio District (southern area of South Riverdale, with many vintage Victorian houses; a major film, TV, and arts district)
Riverside (a.k.a. Queen Broadview Village) (in South Riverdale, with many historic buildings and cultural landmarks; now undergoing gentrification and becoming known as a district of restaurants, food and furniture retailers, and independent designers)
Blake-Jones (houses built from the 1870s–1930s, rather affordable but seeing an uptick in crime and unemployment)
The Pocket (located within Blake-Jones; said to feel like a village, and undergoing more gentrification)

29 February 1932, Danforth Ave. at Logan Ave., looking east

1 January 1930, southwest corner of Danforth Ave. and Logan Ave., Tony Greco and mother’s fruit stand

Riverdale contains many schools, including Riverdale Collegiate Institute, a high school founded in 1907 as Riverdale Technical School. Another historic school is Holy Name Catholic School, founded in 1913 by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Parks include Withrow Park (with an ice rink, soccer field, and two baseball diamonds); Riverdale Park (with a running track, ice rink, swimming pool, three baseball diamonds, and tennis courts); Jimmy Simpson Park (with a community centre and tennis courts); the Royal Canadian Curling Club; Hubbard Park; and Kempton Howard Park (formerly East View Park).

Riverdale Park, looking south, Copyright Inkey

Detail of reconstructed Broadview Hotel, Copyright JasonParis; Source

Broadview Hotel in 1945

Other landmarks include The Opera House (opened 1909); Bridgepoint Health (founded 1875 and  going through many names); the Ralph Thornton Community Centre (opened 1913); Don Jail (opened 1864); the Cranfield House (built 1902); and St. John’s Presbyterian Church.

Don Jail, Copyright Nadiatalent

My characters Lena Yeltsina and Antonina Petrova settle in Riverdale with their newfound surrogate mother Sonya Gorbachëva when they escape Russia in 1920. Lena is soon reunited with her young son Yuriy, who’s been languishing in a Manhattan orphanage, and takes him back to Toronto under the ruse of Sonya being the mother.

In 1921, Lena’s little sister Natalya comes to America, and joins her in Canada as soon as possible. When their mother and two much-older sisters arrive in New York in January 1924, Lena explains their life is in Canada now, and that after so many years of separation, Natalya doesn’t know them.

Lena and Natalya stay in close touch with their mother and older sisters, and create a very happy life in Toronto. In 1927, they’re joined by Sonya’s niece, Naina Yezhova, and her best friend Katya Chernomyrdina, the daughter of Sonya’s own best friend.

The Empress Hotel and The Emporium

Copyright Bobak Ha’Eri, CC-By-SA-3.0

Victoria, British Columbia’s beautiful landmark Empress Hotel (now The Fairmont Empress) was built by British architect Francis Rattenbury from 1904–08 as a terminus hotel for the nearby Canadian Pacific steamship line.

Initially, The Empress served businesspeople and well-off visitors. To accommodate all the patrons, new wings were added from 1909–14 and in 1928. When Canadian Pacific stopped serving Victoria, the hotel remarketed itself as a tourist resort.

Copyright Another Believer

Famous guests include Prince Edward, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mum), Katharine Hepburn, Douglas Fairbanks, Jack Benny, Rita Hayworth, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Tallulah Bankhead, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla, and Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan.

Prince Edward’s waltzing till dawn in the Crystal Ballroom in 1919 was so important to Victorians, elderly women’s obituaries almost fifty years later bore headlines like “Mrs. Thornley-Hall Dies. Prince of Wales Singled Her Out.”

Copyright Another Believer

Most of the 477 rooms overlook the Inner Harbour or the rear courtyard gardens. There are four restaurants—The Veranda, Q at The Empress, Q Bar, and The Lobby Lounge. The lattermost hosts the famous Tea at the Empress, which has run daily in the summer ever since the hotel’s opening on 20 January 1908.

More than 400 people enjoy this classic Victorian-era tea service every day, which features tea sandwiches, a house blend of tea, pastries, scones, quiches, clotted cream, strawberry preserves with lavender from the rooftop garden, mousse, and champagne.

The house tea was first served to King George V in 1914 in Stoke-on-Trent, England, upon the opening of the Booth factory, and the china was first used for the 1939 visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Copyright Bobak Ha’Eri, CC-By-SA-3.0

For many years, there was no sign above the door. As workers raised the sign, a furious man proclaimed, “Anyone who doesn’t know this is The Empress shouldn’t be staying here.”

In 1965, debate was raised about whether The Empress should be torn down to make room for a more modern hotel. Thankfully, this beautiful Edwardian landmark was preserved, and launched a $4 million restoration campaign, “Operation Teacup.”

In 1989, $45 million more were spent on renovations. While new features such as a health club and indoor pool were added, the goal was to restore it to its prewar elegance instead of bequeathing a new image.

Many people report ghostly sightings, such as an early 20th century maid who helps with sixth floor cleaning.

Copyright Brandon Godfrey; Source

My characters Inga Savvina and Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov go on their first date to Tea at The Empress in August 1947, the day after Yuriy finally confessed he’s been in love with Inga almost since they met five years ago.

Yuriy is so excited to finally be on a date with his dream girl, he almost misses their streetcar stop. He never thought Inga would want to be more than friends, or go out with someone almost five and a half years older.

Yuriy’s family also treats his spinster aunt Zina to tea and supper by The Empress for her 60th birthday.

San Francisco’s Emporium department store opened on Market Street in 1896. For decades, this was a beloved shopping destination, but it sadly closed on its 100th birthday. Today, only the glass dome and façade survive.

In 1896, it was advertised as “the most beautiful store on earth,” with “a grand display of a million-and-a-half dollars worth of all good kinds of merchandise,” fifteen acres of floor space, and a concert by The Emporium Orchestra.

In the gaslight era, The Emporium boasted 10,000 electric lights and its own power plant. Every morning, the store opened with a bugle call, and “improperly-dressed” saleswomen were sent home.

Surprisingly, the 1906 earthquake didn’t damage the building too badly, but the resulting fires destroyed the stock and all the records (accounts receivable among them). That summer, The Emporium set up temporary new digs at Van Ness Avenue.

In 1908, it reopened with a new glass dome 110 feet high. In 1936, it became the city’s first big store to use escalators.

For years, upper-class San Franciscans shunned The Emporium, since it was on the south side of Market Street, a major social dividing line.

After WWII, kiddy rides were installed on the roof during December.

Corporate shakeouts, the proliferation of retail stores, and the bourgeois move to the suburbs all led to The Emporium’s decline.

The Emporium’s restored glass dome in Westfield San Francisco Centre; Copyright http://flickr.com/photos/maveric2003/; Source

My characters Vsevolod Smirnov and Nadezhda Lebedeva shop in The Emporium during their exhilarating first full day in America in April 1933. They buy new clothes and swimwear, and marvel at the modern appliances they never dreamt existed. Nadezhda doesn’t even recognize a modern telephone.