Wednesday, 5 April 2017





The series of digital stories about Toronto history and culture which make up this project are the work of fifty-three Master of Museum Studies (MMSt) graduate students. The project was inspired by the 2015 Myseum Intersections – Telling Toronto’s Stories and invited each storyteller to select an object from local collections which has significance to Toronto’s past and present. The objects inspired the authors to connect historical events with contemporary context so that they tell stories about the multiple intersections that happen in the city.

Musings will be posting collected stories once a cycle. We hope that, after reading the stories, you will know Toronto a little bit better. And perhaps you will find similar stories in your own objects!

Our partners for this project, to which we are extremely thankful, are:
While most of are partners had several objects from their collection researched and profiled, some of the institutions are represented through single objects. To finish off Toronto Stories 2017, we are pleased to present single serving stories from around Toronto. Some stories are from right next door, others are in private collections. Now, without further ado, stories from John M. Kelly Library, St. Mike’s College Archives, University of Toronto, a private collection of Russian artefacts, and the Multicultural Historical Society of Ontario.



What could a 115 year old ball have to do with Irish immigration into Canada? How can this small object be a powerful marker of the history of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto? This small leather handball tells a story about sports, religion, and Irish Catholic identity at one of the oldest institutions in Toronto. 

Leather handball c.1900, University of St. Michael’s College Archive.
Photo credit: Jasmine Fisher.
In the mid 1800s, an influx of Irish Catholic immigrants came to Canada in the wake of the Great Famine, bringing with them what would become a popular sport at St. Michael’s College, Gaelic handball.

Irish Catholic integration into the culture of the city was not easy. For example, a proper Catholic-centred postsecondary education was difficult because large institutions such as the University of Toronto was firmly Protestant. St Michael’s College School, founded in 1852, was one option for Catholics in Toronto. It was attended by many Irish Catholic students, but they did not offer University degrees, as their graduates would become part of the priesthood. This changed by 1906, when St. Michael’s College became an official part of the University of Toronto.

Despite this integration, St. Michael’s College was still seen as different from the rest of the University, so in-house sports teams evolved as a way to interact with other faculties. Eventually, the success of St. Michael’s College teams became a instance of pride for much of the Irish Catholic population in Toronto. 

University of St. Michael’s College Handball teams, group photo, 1905. 
Photo credit: University of St. Michael’s College Archive.
Hockey and football had a large following in Toronto, but Gaelic handball was also well known. Similar to squash, players must throw or hit a ball against the walls until one player misses. Rather than the tennis ball and racquet which are used in squash, Gaelic handball’s main equipment is a small leather ball and the players’ hands to hit it back and forth, as can be seen here. This leather handball, 4.5cm in diameter, found in the University of St. Michael’s College Archive dates to c.1900, and it was part of a thriving tradition of both formal and informal teams.

This ball is a perfect example of the sporting equipment used during the early years of St. Michael’s College’s integration into the University of Toronto. The sport is still played today using a small synthetic ball rather than leather, and it even has several official leagues in Ireland.

Leather handball c.1900, University of St. Michael’s College Archive.
Photo credit: Jasmine Fisher.
This leather handball represents the development of a sports culture and the popularity of a quintessential Irish sport at St. Michael’s College, and thus the intersection of Irish culture grounded in Catholicism and the traditionally Protestant education system of Toronto. If such a small, everyday piece of sports equipment can represent such an important cultural connection, what stories can be found in the hockey pucks and soccer balls used by people in today’s Toronto?

Works cited
Wamsley, K. B. and D. P. Ryan. (2008). The Fighting Irish of Toronto: Sport and Irish Catholic Identity at St. Michael’s College, 1906-1916. In P. Darby and D. Hassan (Eds), Emigrant Players: Sport and the Irish Diaspora (163-181). London: Routledge.
Google books link:



Ciboria from St. Michael’s University Archives.
Photo Credit: Rebecca Jackson
The University of St. Michael’s College (USMC) archives, at the University of Toronto, houses two ciboria from the 1984 Papal Visit. These two ciboria were donated to USCM by the Archdiocese of Toronto. The photo here tells us that these ciboria were prepared for the Papal Visit by students in the Archdiocese of Toronto. A ciborium is a metal cup or container used to hold and distribute the Eucharist, the bread that Catholics believe to be the body of Christ, during Mass. Often, ciboria are quite ornate and have lids. While there is no official record of how or where the USCM ciboria were used, I would speculate that these were used at the Mass at Downsview during the Papal Visit of 1984 which drew a crowd of thousands.

Some of you may know that 1984 was the first time a pope visited Canada. The late John Paul II, the only pope to visit Canada, came to Toronto twice on this thirteen-city marathon that spanned from coast to coast.

Much telling footage of the Papal Visit is preserved at the CBC digital archives. This material is worth a peek even if just for a reminder of some fantastic fashion from the eighties. During the first week of the visit, over 13.5 million Canadians tuned in to listen to CBC’s radio coverage of the Papal Visit. Some said the Papal Mass at Downsview, an area in northern Toronto, was the largest gathering of people in Canada to date! The archives reveal that John Paul II arrived at the Mass in a Canadian forces helicopter, like the one pictured here, to find a gathering of nearly half a million people. You can see the crowds for yourself on this CBC broadcast.

The USMC ciboria provide a window into this significant event in Toronto’s history. Events like these are often reported and remembered on a grand scale. These ciboria let us look at a smaller part of this grand event. Imagining a smaller community, like a school, and how it prepared for the Papal Visit can bring it closer to home. Do you remember the bustle and excitement when your school got involved in something like an Olympics, festival or parade? You can read one blogger’s recollection of the exciting event to gain some insight into what this might have meant to the kids who prepared these ciboria.

A moment in a city’s history that brings together so many people is worth remembering. Equally important are all the small moments that helped this event happen. So what do you think? Are you hoping Pope Francis I comes to Canada?

A big thank you to the University of St. Michael’s College Archive for their help and access to their collection.

Works Cited

Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto. 30 years since the first Papal Visit [Web log], Retrieved from

CBC Digital Archives. (1984) Pope’s First Visit. Retrieved from

CityPulse Tonight. (1984, September 14) Rewind [Television broadcast]. Toronto, Canada: CityNews. Retrieved from

Dmytrenko, K. (2014, September 11). A meeting of Saints in Midland. Retrieved from

News Staff. (2013, March 6). REWIND: Papal election stirs memories of John Paul II visits to Toronto. City News. Retrieved from ii-visits-to-toronto/

Stewart, B. (Reporter). (1984, September 21). The National [Television broadcast]. Toronto, ON, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from



When Luba’s west-end Toronto neighbourhood announced that its annual Solstice Party would be retro themed, she was at a loss as to what to wear. When immigrating to Toronto from Russia in 1998, she and her family brought very little clothing with them. And of that, none of it was old enough to qualify as “retro.” So she pulled out her recently purchased hockey jersey, a replica of one worn in the 1970s by the Soviet Unions national team. 

Replica of hockey jersey worn by Vladislav Tretiak of
the former Soviet Union’s national team (Photo Credit: Jocelyn Kent)
Her outfit was an instant hit at the party.

Like many immigrants, Luba says, “I like to feel where I came from.” As such, she and her husband Yuri collect Russian objects. While the jersey evokes a period of their lives in the former Soviet Union, it also reminds them of the particular day in 2009 in Toronto when they bought it at a charity auction at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, hosted by the famous former Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak.

Whenever friends host parties to watch Team Canada play hockey, Yuri now proudly wears his red Soviet jersey, no matter whom Canada’s up against. And why wear any old Soviet jersey, when you can wear the jersey worn by Tretiak who countered shots attempted by some of Canada’s greatest players during his career? 

Detail of Tretiak’s name and autograph on reverse
(Photo Credit: Jocelyn Kent)
It’s a humorous jab at his friends’ confidence in the national team, reminding them that Canada’s hockey supremacy is not absolute. Despite sportswriters predicting an easy victory for Canada in the historic eight-game Summit Series with the Soviet Union in 1972, by the end of the tournament’s first game (Soviet Union 7 – Canada 3), it seemed Tretiak and the Soviets might give the Canadians a run for their money.

Tretiak’s skill as goaltender helped the Soviets force Canada to a suspenseful final game. As the tied last period waned, for the millions of Canadians anxiously glued to their televisions and radios in their school gymnasiums, offices and homes, he was the man to beat.

When Canada’s Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the last minute of play against Tretiak, it became a never-to-be-forgotten moment of national triumph. It confirmed Canada’s self-image as a great hockey nation. To this day, the Summit Series remains etched in Canada’s collective consciousness.

Despite the loss, Tretiak became a hero across the Soviet Union and garnered the respect of Canadians as well. He went on to win three Olympic gold medals and eight world championships between 1972 and 1983. As Luba notes, in Canada, more than any other Soviet athlete or politician, “everyone knows him.” She and her husband feel proud wearing Tretiak’s jersey around other Canadians because he espouses sportsmanship and presents “a good image of Russia” to the world.

The Summit Series is part of the former Soviet Union and Canada’s shared heritage, as reactions to the jersey demonstrate. It is in an object from their homeland, surprisingly, that Luba and Yuri find common ground with their Canadian-born friends.



Tea drinking in Russia is an important daily ritual and has been for hundreds of years. Since the introduction of tea by Mongolian rulers to the Tsar Michael I in the early 17th century, it had become a staple in high society. In the late 18th century, tea was imported at such a rate from China that most Russians could enjoy a cup.

An intriguing element of Russian tea culture is the use of the podstakanniki, or glass holders. Tea in Russia is typically consumed from a slender cup that fits in the podstakannik, which literally translates to “thing under the glass” (‘pod’ = under; ‘stakan’=glass). It is usually made of silver or nickel-plated metal. The stability of this object, as opposed to narrow-based mugs or cups, led to its prevalent use in Russian trains as they were less likely to tip over. However, the podstakannik is predominantly used at home, sometimes alongside intricately-wrought tea kettles called samovars. The highly individual and beautifully decorated podstakanniki, the plural of podstakannik, demonstrate the importance of tea in Russian culture.

Podstakannik: View from the front of Yuri Dolgorukiy.
Source: Stephanie Read, 17 November 2015 

The owner of this podstakannik is a warm and friendly woman of Russian descent, who purchased it as a memento while studying and visiting her family in Moscow in the early 2000s. This vintage Soviet-era glass holder features whimsical acorns and foliage wrapping around its sides, framing a depiction of a sculpture of the founder of Moscow, Yuri Dolgorukiy. Dolgorukiy sits upon his horse in full armour, one arm outstretched out in a powerful stance.

Podstakannik: View from the side.
Source: Stephanie Read, 17 November 2015
During the Soviet era, many podstakanniki depicting important people and events in Russian history, such as Dolgorukiy and Sputnik’s launch, were sold as souvenirs in Moscow. Such podstakanniki of this time period were made in the Central Russian town of Kolchugino, about 170 kilometers northeast of Moscow. This glass holder would have been made sometime in the late 1950s or early 60s, as the statue of Yuri Dolgorukiy depicted on the front was raised in Moscow in 1954. It is interesting to see as decorations for such everyday objects some of the symbols of Soviet Union’s national identity. 

Statue of Yuri Dolgorukiy. 2008 Moscow Victory Day Parade.
Source: Vitaly V. Kuzmin, 3 May 2015
Luba, the owner of the object, has fond memories of travelling on the trains with her mother and using podstakanniki. In her home, each glass holder is of a different pattern and shape. They make for a pleasantly eclectic set such as many Canadians might have in the form of various souvenir, gift and prize coffee mugs.

Items like podstakanniki, samovars, teapots and other items for tea-making in Russia are ornate confections often depicting flowing organic shapes or complex geometric designs. They are associated with social occasions, and in Luba’s case, travelling in Russia with loved ones. This podstakannik bearing the image of the founder of Moscow is still used for tea-drinking and is a cherished souvenir of home. What is on your favourite tea or coffee cup?

Works Cited

Personal communication with Luba (did not want her last name to be known). Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Personal communication with Egor Surahev (a Russian friend whose father collects antique podstakanniki) Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Encyclopedia of Contemporary Russian Culture. 2007. Eds. Tatiana Smorodinskaya; Karen Evans-Romaine; Helena Goscilo. Routledge: New York, NY. p. 611 of 693

Gaylard, Linda. 2015. The Tea Book. DK Publishing: New York, NY. p. 104-108 of 224Fodor’s Moscow and St. Petersburg. 2006. Eds. Christina Knight and Mary Beth Bohman. 7th Edition. Random House: Toronto, New York. p. 38



Standing at the corner of Beverley and D’Arcy Streets, I admire the house Mrs. Csók and her husband owned in 1937. William Lyon Mackenzie King and his family lived here in 1893 while he attended the University of Toronto, but I’m here to honour a less famous life. I imagine the factory workers returning from their shifts at the Swift meat factory in the West Toronto Junction, exchanging a quarter for a hot bowl of Mrs. Csók’s homemade goulash and a pastry eighty years ago.

This historic mansion was Mrs. Csók’s Beverley restaurant.
Photo by Erika Robertson
Elizabeth Csók made her own place in Toronto through hard work and entrepreneurial spirit. Born in Hungary in 1905, at eighteen she fell in love with a Catholic man despite the disapproval of her Presbyterian family. When the Treaty of Trianon divided Hungary in 1920, Elizabeth’s family lost their home. Fifty years later, she told historian Carmela Patrias, “My parents have house and grapes on the other side. They put the stamps on the money. When they get the money to Hungary from Czechoslovakia, it worth nothing.” So at twenty-one, she boarded a ship bound for Canada, where she married her fiancé.

The Great Depression, illness, xenophobia, and language barriers kept Mr. Csók from finding a good job. Elizabeth’s options were also limited: employers often wouldn’t hire married women because they were considered unskilled and expected to raise children. Through ingenuity and hard work, she found a way to do both.

When the Csóks moved to Toronto with their two young daughters in 1937, they saw an opportunity: a Hungarian restaurant on the corner of Beverley and D’Arcy Streets. She recalled, “Very old people owned it and it was for sale and we buy it. All the money that we have. So we start working in that restaurant.” They simply called it the Beverley Restaurant.

Mrs. Buyer, the former owner and cook, taught Elizabeth how to run a business and how much meat to order from the Slovak butcher who spoke a little Hungarian. “Mrs. Buyer show me everything, how much, because I have no idea how to cook for that many people.” After a month, Elizabeth ran the kitchen with the help of another woman and a dishwasher from Quebec. Her husband, who had “no clue to do any cooking” and a waitress looked after the dining room. Forty years later, she remembered the Sunday menu with pride: homemade paprikash chicken, salads, coffee, and strudel for thirty-five cents.

Paprikash chicken. Photo by Kobako (,
via Wikimedia Commons
Before hearing Elizabeth Csók’s story, the brick houses of Baldwin Village were anonymous to me. Now, they remind me of an industrious woman who made a place for herself and her family in an inhospitable city. I find myself wondering whose histories occupy other buildings I pass on my way to school.

Discover more stories like hers from the Multicultural History Society of Ontario. MHSO has made a selection of its oral history collection available online. I’m thankful to the researchers at the City of Toronto Archives for their help locating the Beverley Restaurant.

Works Cited
Frager, R. A. & Patrias, C. (2005). Discounted Labour: Women Workers in Canada, 1870-1939.

Henderson, G. F. (1998) Chronology of Mackenzie King’s Life. In W.L. Mackenzie King: A Bibliography and Research Guide. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

MHSO & Patrias, C. (29 November 1976). “Hungarian Interview—Mrs. Csok” from 1956 Hungarian Memorial Oral History Project. Retrieved from

Patrias, C. (1994). Patriots and Proletarians: Politicizing Hungarian Immigrants in Interwar Canada. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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