The Harris House Adventure

In the fall of 2016, Ellen received a call from a prospective client – who wishes to remain anonymous — asking her if she could help him identify and contextualize a painting in his collection created by Lawren Harris. He purchased this small (10.5 x 14) piece at auction that spring. It was created around 1920 and titled “Toronto House”. He was intent on learning more details about the subject of the painting, including its history, location in the city, and current status. Ellen accepted the assignment but warned him that the search may not yield any dividends, due to the difficulty of tracking down a single structure in a big city like Toronto, along with the likelihood that it may have been demolished long ago by developers.


Image of the Harris House Painting

Soon after this time, Ellen reached out to Jim Burant, retired archivist and art historian, for advice and assistance. The two worked together to solve this mystery. Along the way, she also approached and drew on the expertise of architectural and archival experts from ERA Architects and the City of Toronto Archives. In the end, the main two participants were both ecstatic and astounded when they discovered the matching Harris house at 30 Roden Place in Yorkville. Incredibly, beyond the connection to the celebrated artist, the house also had the added prestige of serving as the long-term office of the eminent local architect Mandel Sprachman from 1971 until his death in 2002. His children inherited the house and held onto it until they put it on the market in the fall of 2017.

Due to the immense popularity of Lawren Harris and the fascinating nature and conclusion of the pursuit of the “Toronto House” painting, the consultants decided to document this story in Spacing Magazine. For more details about the project, you can access the piece by clicking on the title “In Search of the Elusive Lawren Harris “Toronto House.”” Immediately after its release in October, 2017, the story generated tremendous interest and excitement from the public.

Ellen took part in an interview with CBC Radio’s As It Happens  a week after the release of the article. The show subsequently published a clip of the interview along with a lengthy summary of the project on their web page. Click here to access the site and listen to the interview. A month later, Ellen and Robert Sprachman — the owner of the house and son of Mandel Sprachman — conducted an interview with CBC TV’s Our Toronto program with Marvel Taruc.

While both Ellen and Jim were extremely concerned about the fate of the Harris house while it was on the market, their fears were assuaged when they learned that the buyer planned to renovate the structure and keep it intact. A year later, Ellen received a call from Jane Ip, the owner of  Jeanne Lottie, a design firm specializing in one-of-a-kind purses and bags. She informed Ellen that she had just purchased the Roden Place property from the original buyer to house her business. Her firm was established in 1985 and was previously situated on nearby Scollard Street.

Jane and her colleague, Gillian, invited Ellen to the house for a brief meeting and tour of the recently renovated house.  Soon after, Ellen dropped by again with Robert Sprachman to attend their annual Christmas party. The Harris house is currently painted a vibrant shade of pink on the east side of the building — Jeanne Lottie’s signature colour — and adorned with Christmas decorations. Although Jane has only occupied the home for a few weeks, she divulged that she felt an immediate connection and affinity for the space when she saw it for the first time. Evidently, this once time-worn, anonymous abode has morphed into a bright, beloved structure, with an enviable pedigree and future.

The photos below reveal the boldly painted exterior wall facing Roden Place, the architectural elements on the main floor, and the decorative touches introduced by the current owner.


Exterior of the house facing Roden Place


Southern interior wall of the home


Main stairway with the architectural detail created by Mandel Sprachman during the 1970s


Eastern interior wall of the house decorated with items that are meaningful to the owner, including a photo of the previous structure that housed her business.

The Development & Launch of the Exhibition “From Latkes to Laffas”

Intro PanelAbout a year ago, I was contacted by my colleague and friend, Dorion Liebgott, the curator of Beth Tzedec’s Reuben & Helene Dennis Museum. She wanted my company to assist her  committee with an exhibition that they were interested in developing, examining the history of Toronto’s Jewish restaurants. This was an ambitious initiative that hadn’t been explored or tackled before by an historian or museum. They were hoping that I could help provide them with a strategy, research, content, and advice required to help them achieve their vision.

The first step was to produce an interpretive plan, which essentially identified the purpose of the exhibition, the structure and scope, along with the themes that would be explored. The document that I produced recommended charting out the history of Jewish restaurants in the city from 1900 to the present, starting with St. John’s Ward and ending with recent eateries that have emerged in the downtown area like Fat Pasha and the People’s Eatery. The display is structured thematically, driven by a chrono-geographic scheme that charts out the evolution of these restaurants with the migration pattern of the city’s Jewish population. The six themes included: St. John’s Ward; Kensington Market (Spadina Ave. & College St.); Eglinton Avenue West; Delicatessens; Kosher Restaurants; Dairy, Bagel Restaurants & Cafes; and Trendy, Innovative & Healthy Eateries.

Since there was little or no local historical literature to draw from, it was necessary to delve into the primary sources and construct the history and stories ourselves. This proved to be a monumental task, requiring the efforts of a team that I pulled together consisting of students and young graduates in archival and museum studies. We started off by producing an Excel list for all of the Jewish restaurants that existed within the different neighbourhoods from 1900 to the present. This entailed dozens of hours of research, plowing through over a century of Toronto Directories at the Toronto Reference Library and Jewish Directories at the Ontario Jewish Archives. We also relied on data from to explore and document the families who owned the various establishments, along with the opening and closing dates for each restaurant. Once the list was completed, the Committee reviewed it and identified any omissions and issues that had to be addressed. We all worked together to refine the list in order to ensure that it was as comprehensive and accurate as possible.

The next step was to create profiles for each of the neighbourhoods and themes and locate stories associated with the individual restaurants. It was also important to get a sense of how the Toronto Jewish restaurant scene evolved as well as how it differed from other Canadian and American cities. In order to trace the origins of the industry and set the scene, I decided to conduct an in-depth investigation into the Harris Delicatessen, Toronto’s First Jewish restaurant and deli. It was established in 1900 and located on Queen Street West. This work involved conducting significant research at the City of Toronto Archives and the Ontario Jewish Archives. The great grandson of the owners, Jeff Rose, was also contacted and provided some wonderful stories and photographs. The insights generated from this work were used to produce an article entitled “The Spicy Story of Toronto’s First Deli” which was published in Historicist in late August of 2017. The findings, stories and visuals were also used in the display.

The third phase of the project involved locating sources documenting the families and restaurants, along with visuals and artefacts that could be featured in the display. My team conducted an on-line review of the holdings of many of the local repositories and documented the sources that would be a good fit for the exhibition. They also visited several archives and libraries in order to examine some of the records that looked promising. They took notes and ordered copies of the most promising items for me and the Committee to review. Once this work was completed, we developed a comprehensive list of sources that could be tapped into for the display. I subsequently identified the gaps that existed and highlighted the restaurants and records that should be highlighted in the exhibition.

After that phase was conducted, the Committee spent considerable time reaching out to the families that owned restaurants and negotiated the loan of photographs, artefacts and documents for the display. They also ordered many of the photos from the different repositories that were identified by my team. This outreach initiative ended up unearthing some colourful and compelling items that are showcased in the display.

The final phase involved the production of the text panels, which was part of my bailiwick. The introductory panel was intended to outline the purpose and scope of the display and the remaining six panels provided an overview of the neighbourhood involved or the genre of food covered off by the theme. The Committee members selected most of the content for the display, set up and mounted the exhibition, and produced the captions for each restaurant. Local artist, Ian Leventhal, was commissioned to produce six vibrant paintings that corresponded to the themes. His lively and whimsical pieces, situated across from the introductory panel, add tremendous colour and energy to the exhibition.

Ellen Scheinberg, Dorion Liebgott and Ian Leventhal
Ellen Scheinberg, Dorion Liebgott and Ian Leventhal

The exhibition was launched on the evening of September 6, 2017. We had a very large crowd of around 200 participants who expressed great enthusiasm and appreciation for the event and project. The display has also garnered a great deal of coverage by the mainstream and Jewish press. After the launch, Beth Tzedec organized a major culinary program called “Heymish and Hip” that was a great success. I have been helping to coordinate the final program, “From Delis to Dairy: Kibitzing about Kensington’s Early Jewish Restaurants”, which will be held on November 15th at the Lillian Smith Library. It represents a partnership between the Synagogue, the Kensington Market Historical Society and the Ontario Jewish Archives. The exhibition will run until the end of March. The public is welcome to view it during the operating hours of the Museum.

Ward Section on wall
The first section of the exhibition that examines St. John’s Ward

Credit Panel




The Early Shopping Mall as Community Centre

This posting will offer up a more historic examination of the Yorkdale Mall collection in contrast to the earlier postings which were more archival and technical in nature. After reviewing thousands of images and documents, it became quite apparent that Yorkdale was much more than a place to shop during the early years. In many respects, it was like a community centre that offered up a myriad of different attractions that were intended to draw in large audiences from different backgrounds, demographic groups and geographic areas.

British Week - 1967For instance, during the 1960s and 1970s, Yorkdale held many different international events that celebrated just to name a few — British, Japanese, Italian and German — culture, food and fashion. The image to the left captures Ray and Eileen Sonin engaged in a radio broadcast during British Week at Yorkdale in the fall of 1967. The images below feature a Japanese tea ceremony (Oct. 1969), a window display showcasing Italian fashions (Oct. 1970) and traditional German dancers (Oct. 1972).

14 - 1970016Tea Ceremony - Japan Week - 196984 - 1972087

In addition to introducing its customers to many different exciting and exotic cultures, Yorkdale also held a number of cutting-edge attractions at the time that one wouldn’t expect to find at a mall. These included cultural displays, sport, car and boat shows and other unique attractions.

The three images below document displays from the ROM, the AGO and the Antique Show, which were held at Yorkdale in 1971,1974 and 1977 respectively. These types of events served in making art, artifacts and antiques accessible to the general public and exposed these audiences to history and avant-garde culture.  While the ROM and Antique Shows were successful, Yorkdale customers were not ready to embrace the AGO’s modern art. According to an article published in The Mirror on 24 July, 1974, the modern pieces were widely criticized by the obviously more traditional audience at the time.

50 - 1971052AGO Exhibit - 1974Antique Show - 1977

Other more sporty events that were held at Yorkdale during the early decades included57 - 1971059 sports shows, car and boat shows and horse shows. These attractions took considerable time and effort to set up and certainly the audiences must have appreciated the magnitude of the events involved. The image to the right reveals a ski demonstration from the Sports Show (1971) and those below include huge sailboats from the boat and plane show (1971) and a horse stall from the Carlsberg Horse Show (1976).

46 - 1971048Carlsburg Horse Event - 1976

The final group of events that were quite unique were the Yorkdale anniversaries that were held for many of the milestones during this period and the Circus Vargas event, the latter of which included a big top set up in the parking area and wild animals. The photos below feature highlights from these events. The first is a trampoline artist performing at Yorkdale’s 10th anniversary in 1974 and the second is a bear act under the big top at Circus Vargas in 1977.

Trampoline - 1974 - 10th anniversary Summer 74 Circus Vargas - 1977

One can see that the mall during the 1960s and 1970s was more than a teen hangout. Yorkdale’s cutting-edge programming served as a cultural magnet for Torontonians and tourists alike. The myriad and unique experiences that it offered were often both educational and entertaining and appealed to a broad demographic. Yorkdale certainly embraced the optimism of the era and created cutting-edge events that set it apart from the competition.




































































































































































The Digitization Phase of the Yorkdale Anniversary Project

After the voluminous Yorkdale materials were arranged and processed, it was time to start the digitization project. The first step involved selection. Working with the client, we were able to devise a selection criteria that encapsulated their priorities and goals in regards to this initiative. The criteria was applied to the records and we were able to select and digitize 1000 items which included documents, ephemera, newspaper clipping, posters, photographs, slides and AV materials. This posting will highlight the technical aspects of the initiate.

DSCN0087The first materials that were digitized were the photographs and slides. Approximately 60 percent of the scans were composed of these media. We relied on a high-end Epson scanner to digitize these records. The unit came with special attachments for the negatives and slides. The photograph to the right is an image of Jessica using the light board to arrange and prepare the slides for scanning.

The photographs were scanned at a mid-range resolution and the slides at 700 DPI, in order to ensure that they hold their appearance once the images are enlarged. Although the Epson came with a feature to take out dust, we dusted each one before scanning them. Additional work using Photoshop, however, was required to fully eliminate specs and age-related damage to some of the graphic materials.

Another challenge that we addressed was the digitization of images and items that were glued to scrapbooks, along with oversized materials such as transparencies and posters. This category of materials was therefore not appropriate for the flat bed scanner.

Poster - October 1986

Yorkdale Poster – October, 1986

DSCN0085As a result, we relied on digital photography to accommodate these records. One of the assistant archivists, Katie, is a trained photographer in this area and was able to deftly photograph these tricky items. The photograph on the left provides a visual of the work involved in digitizing the items in the scrapbooks. Katie also relied on a tripod and easel to tackle the oversized ephemera such as the poster featured above.

The final group of records that we tackled were the audio visual materials. These included audio cassettes and VHS recordings. We relied on a small device to convert the cassettes to MP3 and a Magnavox VHS/DVD machine to convert the VHS to video. Once the items were digitized it was still necessary to rely on a software ripping device to convert the videos to AVI and then a film editing program to produce short video clips of each event or TV news program. Here is a gem of a piece that was converted from a news show which has hosted by Lucy Zilio who was covering Ricky Martin’s visit to Yorkdale on 9 October 1997. This was an era when many young stars made appearances at malls to greet and entertain their teen fans. Just click on the hypertext link above to see the video.

Now that the items are digitized, Yorkdale is planning to rely on this material as part of their social media anniversary initiative. They have also secured a web design company to produce an Infogram to showcase these rich materials that document the five decade long history of Yorkdale Mall.

















The HP Archivists: Transforming Old Records Into Gold

While some people know about the ancient alchemists who magically transformed lead into gold, the general public likely hasn’t seen or been exposed to the wizardry a good archivist employs to transform old records into valued treasures. This posting will reveal the expertise and tools the Heritage Professionals team relied on when processing the Yorkdale Mall records that document its amazing 50 year history.

IMG_0805We started off by taking all of the slides and photographs and organizing them chronologically by event. They were then placed in acid-free envelopes and folders, described, labelled and placed in archival boxes. Two of the staff, Katie Shoemaker and Jessica Silverman, both of whom are photo experts, tackled this work.

IMG_0804One of our seasoned archivists, Simon Rogers, took on the 35 boxes of textual records. The documents were mostly organized in binders by event. We implemented the same arrangement scheme as with the graphic materials and disposed of the old binders. After the multiple copies and non-archival materials were culled, we were left with 20 boxes of filed documents.

IMG_0808At the end of the arrangement and processing exercise, we were left with an extremely attractive and well organized collection of materials. Not only will the records have a much extended life span, but they will be far easier to access and digitize in preparation for the next phase of the project. To the left is an image of photographs that have been placed in acid-free envelopes, folders and boxes.



Phase I of the Yorkdale Mall Project

The first phase of the archival project involved identifying and retrieving the records produced by Yorkdale Mall staff from the past 50 years and preserving them according to archival standards. The majority of materials were stored in a storage room below store level. The room was quite dark, overcrowded and slightly damp.


We identified the boxes that should be included in this initiative and had Yorkdale’s Housekeeping staff move the designated records to a holding room situated next to the large processing room that we are using for this project. The purpose of the holding room (see photo to the left) has been to provide the team with a separate and safe space for us to conduct an evaluation of the records in order to determine if any of them have been contaminated by mould, attacked by insects/vermin or possess other problems that require special treatment by a conservator.

Box with shredded newspaper in corner

Box with shredded newspaper in corner

During this exercise, we spotted 8 binders containing textual materials from the 1970s that had mould. We subsequently contacted a paper conservator to review the binders and provide us with an assessment and quote. There were also a couple of boxes that had some shredded newspaper shavings on the bottom that were likely generated by mice to serve as a den.


 One box appeared to have burn marks on the side. Thankfully the records inside seemed to be safe and intact. Overall, the collection consists of around 60 boxes of analogue and digital records in all media — paper, photographs, slides, VHS & Beta tapes, films, posters, CDs, ephemera etc… — that date from 1964 to 2003 that possess extremely high archival value.

In the end, besides the binders with textual records, only a couple dozen slides and photographs had to be removed due to humidity or water damage. We also had to recycle the newspapers that had been attacked by mice. Despite these discoveries, we were very pleased to find that the vast majority of the records were very good condition and ready to move on to the next stage involving archival processing.

Yorkdale Mall’s 50th Anniversary Initiative

This January we were hired by Oxford Properties Group to assist with Yorkdale Mall’s 50th Anniversary which will take place this year.Early Yorkdale Postcard

When it opened on February 26th 1964, Yorkdale was the largest indoor mall in the world.  Situated close to the 401, the intent of the developers was to attract and accommodate the growing number of people who resided in the suburbs, along with urbanites eager to venture to this shopping mecca that  boasted air conditioning, two Interior Yorkdale - 1960smajor department stores and 6500 parking spaces.

The anniversary campaign will feature a number of prominent personalities, such as Coco Rosha, who is captured in the promotional materials and will take part in the main anniversary event scheduled for February 26th.


Here is a link to the anniversary page that was set up recently by the Marketing Department. This site will provide information about all of the upcoming anniversary events as well as provide access to the virtual and social media products developed during the course of the year. Some of these products will highlight the rich heritage materials that we have been hired to process, describe and digitize. Regular updates will be posted on this site documenting the progress of this exciting initiative along with stories relating to specific archival treasures that were unearthed by the Heritage Professionals team.