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Robert Burns

January 25 is Robbie Burns Day, commemorating the Scottish poet and lyricist who was born on this day in 1759. The January 25 1932 edition of the Toronto Daily Star featured a poem in its “A Little Of Everything” section that honoured Mr. Burns:

It’s safe to say that this poet was proud of his Scots heritage.

Since James MacGregor was obliging enough to provide his address along with his poem, I looked him up in the Toronto city directories. He is listed at 471 Runnymede Road in the 1932 directory and was working as a painter. And that is where he stayed: he is listed as a painter at that address in the 1952 directory. The 1955 directory lists him with no occupation and the 1956 directory does not list him.

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Uptown

Here’s a photograph from the January 20 1927 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of an actress appearing in a movie that was about to play in the city.

Beatrice Lillie (1894-1989) was a British stage actress who was born in Toronto. She started her career performing in small towns in Ontario with her mother, Lucie Ann, and her sister Muriel, while her father, John, rented out the Toronto family home as a boarding house.

The 1910 Toronto city directory lists John A. Lillie as a plumber living at 190 Sherbourne, and lists Lucie as a vocalist and Muriel as a pianist at the same address. There was also another John Lillie working as an engineer and living at 180 Sherbourne; I have no idea if they were related. (190 Sherbourne looks like it still stands as half of a duplex, though it looks like it has been remodelled. 188 Sherbourne looks like it has not changed since 1910, though.)

The three Lillie women relocated to London after that, and Beatrice Lillie made her West End stage debut in 1914. She continued appearing in revues and shows in London and was widely praised for what Wikipedia refers to as her “exquisite sense of the absurd”.

She returned to New York City in 1926, and appeared in the movie Exit Smiling (mentioned in the photo) after that, starring opposite Mary Pickford’s brother, Jack Pickford. (The Pickfords were also born in Toronto.) She continued performing on both sides of the Atlantic until the Second World War.

At the time of this photo, she was married to Robert Peel, a used car salesman who eventually became the 5th Baronet Peel. His family had a title but no money, so Peel spent his wife’s money instead. They separated but never divorced; he passed away in 1935. Their son, who became the 6th Baronet, was killed in action in 1942.

She continued performing until suffering a stroke in the mid-1970s. The day after she passed away in 1989, her long-time companion, John Philip Huck, died of a heart attack. Huck, an actor, singer, and former U.S. Marine, was nearly three decades younger than she was.

YouTube has some footage and recordings of Beatrice Lillie, including “There Are Fairies At The Bottom Of Our Garden”, recorded in 1934, and a TV performance in 1950 of a sketch titled “Double Damask Dinner Napkins”.

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A beautiful Cossack girl

Here’s a photograph from the January 20 1927 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a Russian woman with her pet dog.

Lilli Streppetoff (and her pet dog) appear to have vanished into history. The only references I could find of her were from other newspapers around this time that were running the same wire service photo.

There’s always the possibility that Ms. Streppetoff wasn’t actually a Cossack, let alone the daughter of a general killed in the revolution. But there’s no way of knowing.

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Mastering an outrigger

Here’s a photograph from the January 20 1927 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a woman with a canoe.

Allene Ray (1901-1979) was midway through her film career at the time this photograph was taken. She was used to doing her own stunts and had already mastered horseback riding, so working with a Hawaiian outrigger was well within her skill set.

Her last movie was in 1931, after which she seems to have led an ordinary civilian life, working as a seamstress and fitter and then becoming a real estate broker. She married film producer Larry Wheeler in 1925; they stayed together until he passed away in 1958.

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Russian film star

Here’s a photograph from the January 20 1927 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a Russian actress who was about to star in films in the United States.

Vera Voronina (1904-1942?) fled Russia with her family at the time of the 1917 revolution. She had appeared in films in Austria, Germany, and Britain before coming to America. Her first movie in the United States was The Whirlwind of Youth (1927).

She was dropped from her American contract in 1928 and then returned to Germany. Her career did not survive the transition to talking films, probably because she spoke with a thick Russian accent. She married a man named Nikolaus Awramow and then disappeared into history; her date of death is unknown, but some sources say that it was 1942.

A brief article on her life and career can be found on the Bizarre Los Angeles website.

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Agouti is at home

Here’s a photograph from the January 14 1930 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a British woman with her exotic pet.

Sir Walter Peacock (1871-1956) was a Liberal Party politician and lawyer who worked for the future King Edward VIII when he was the Prince of Wales.

His wife, the former Irene Cynthia Le Mesurier, wrote a number of books. These include biographies of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles that were published in 1952; the Toronto Public Library has them available for reference.

The agouti is a large rodent that is found in tropical parts of the Americas. Agoutis can live up to 20 years, which is a long time for a member of the rat family.

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First to loop in glider plane

The January 14 1930 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained this photo of an airplane:

Edward Bayard Heath (1888-1931) started building and flying his own aircraft in 1908, which was only five years after the Wright brothers’ first flight. He formed his own aircraft company in 1912. He died in a crash when testing a new aircraft design.

The Heath Airplane Company continued on after his death. After World War II, it renamed itself Heathkit and concentrated on selling electronic products that purchasers could assemble themselves.

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Playing in “Whosit”

Here’s another photograph from the January 14 1930 edition of the Toronto Daily Star that includes the person’s name and address:

At some point, I need to research when the newspapers stopped doing this. But, for now, I can continue to look people up in the Toronto city directories!

A search revealed that there were six Pole family members listed in the 1930 Toronto city directory at 32 Cornish Road:

  • Frederick H. G. Pole, the head of the household, who worked as an inspector at the Canada Permanent Mortgage Corporation;
  • Audrey L. Pole, who worked as a clerk at Eaton’s;
  • Constance, Dorothy, and Freda, who had no listed occupation;
  • Howard L. Pole, who worked as a “client’s mn” at Watson, Wallace & Co.

By 1935, Constance had moved out and had become an artist. Dorothy and Freda had started their own business, called The Pantry Shop; despite its name, it sold lingerie. Howard L. was working as a financial agent, and Frederick H. G. was still an inspector. Audrey was not listed; presumably, she had gotten married, which in those days caused women to disappear from the city directory.

By 1940, Frederick had no listed occupation. Howard is listed as Howard F. Pole, but the home address is still 32 Cornish; he was working for Primary Securities. Constance (now listed as Connie) was a teacher at Western Technical Commercial School; my guess is that she taught art. Dorothy worked as a clerk at the Toronto General Trusts. Freda is now missing, presumably married.

By 1942, tragedy had struck the family, as sadly it so often does. The family had moved to unit 2, 80 Spadina Road, and Adelaine Pole was listed as Frederick’s widow there. Constance, still a teacher, had moved back in with her mother. Dorothy is the only other Pole listed; she is still a clerk. I don’t know what happened to Howard; hopefully, he moved out of town.

In the 1943 directory, Adelaine and Constance are the only family members listed. Dorothy is no longer there. Again, presumably, she got married too.

A search for Whosit, the play that Ms. Pole was appearing in, turned out to be a dead end, as there is a board game with that name.

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Little Joan and her pet spaniel

I continue to be astonished by the fact that newspapers of the 1920s and 1930s would publish the names and addresses of people whose photographs they were printing. Needless to say, this would never happen today.

For example, here’s a photo that appeared on the front page of the January 14 1930 edition of the Toronto Daily Star:

Fortunately, Marcus L. Brown had an uncommon first name, so it was easy to trace him in the Toronto city directories. The 1930 directory lists him as a factory manager at the Seiberling Rubber Company and living at 319 Kennedy Avenue. He remained at the Seiberling Rubber Company for the rest of his working life, eventually becoming vice-president in charge of production and then president and production manager. He moved from 319 Kennedy to 59 Wendover Road and then, by 1943, to 77 Jackson Avenue. The 1963 directory lists him at 77 Jackson with no occupation; presumably, he had retired. I didn’t trace him after that.

The 1949 directory lists Joanne H. Brown as a student and living at 77 Jackson, and the 1950 directory lists her as working as a clerk for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company at the same home address. The 1951 directory didn’t show the page that the Joan or Joanne Browns were on due to a scanning error, and the 1952 directory doesn’t list her. Presumably, she got married.

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Celebrated

Here’s an ad from the January 9 1929 edition of the Toronto Daily Star for an upcoming performance at Massey Hall.

Roland Hayes (1887-1977) lived a memorable and remarkable life. Born in rural Georgia, his mother was formerly a slave, his father passed away when he was 11, and he received only a sixth-grade education. His family moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he was in a church choir; a visiting pianist asked him to sing a solo and introduced him to the music of Enrico Caruso.

He began studying music seriously in 1905, including regular lessons from a teacher who insisted on Hayes visiting him at home so as not to embarrass him in front of his white students. In 1915, Hayes started touring the United States.

He toured in Europe between 1920 and 1923, including giving a command performance for King George V and Queen Mary. He then returned to the United States for another successful tour, eventually dividing his time between the two continents. He wound up earning $100,000 a year at his peak. He also found time to have an affair with a German aristocrat named Bertha Henriette Katharina Nadine, Gräfin von Colloredo-Mansfeld.

In 1942, Hayes’s wife and daughter accidentally sat in a part of a shoe store in Rome, Georgia that was intended for white customers. Hayes confronted the store owner and resolved the conflict, but was assaulted by a police officer (who was apparently not in uniform) and arrested. This brought national attention; the officer was eventually fired.

Hayes had a distinguished career which ended when he gave his last performance at the age of 85. Before he passed away, he was able to acquire the property in Georgia on which he had grown up.