History of the Karma Co-op Building

Who Goes Here? History of the Karma Co-op Building

By Suzanne Methot

Karma Co-op has been located at 739 Palmerston Avenue for over 30 years. At its most basic, the building is just a pile of bricks and mortar. But it’s more than the sum of its construction parts. This building, like any other, describes a still-living history. What happened in the building before we got here? Who passed through its doors? To retrieve these stories, The Chronicle recently spent a few days at the Toronto Archives and the Archives of Ontario, researching the history of 739 Palmerston Avenue.

Palmerston Avenue is located in the former Seaton Village. In the late 1700s, after the Crown paid the Mississauga Nation £1700 in cash and goods for the land now known as Toronto, the colonial government granted lots in Seaton Village to Colonel David Shank and Captain Samuel Smith, loyalists who served under John Graves Simcoe in the Queen’s Rangers during the American Revolution. In the early 1800s, the colony’s Receiver General, George Cruikshank – who had built a home on Front Street, just north of Fort York and west of Bathurst – acquired Shank and Smith’s farm lots and added them to his original land grant to construct a country home along Bathurst Street, north of Bloor. Bathurst Street was known at the time as “Cruikshank’s Lane,” as it was a semi-private driveway leading from the Cruikshank home to their country estate. Around 1850, the aging Cruikshank started to sell off his land. Subsequent owners parcelled the land into even smaller lots, and by 1870, Seaton Village had approximately 60 homes.


Maps and Hidden Places


When researching buildings at the Toronto Archives, the best place to start is the Goad’s Atlas of fire insurance maps. I didn’t know when the Karma Co-op building was constructed, so I had to start wide. Because Seaton Village was annexed by the city of Toronto in 1887, I chose the 1890 map, which was updated in 1894. That map shows the house at 741, but no buildings in the lot that now contains the houses at 735 and 737 Palmerston, and no building on the back of that lot. (Although the entrance to Karma Co-op is accessed via the alley running north from Barton Avenue or the laneway beside the house at 741, the building is actually situated behind the houses at 735 and 737 and was originally part of that lot.) The 1899 and 1903 maps show the same configuration.

Looking at old maps can be disorienting, as many streets have different names or simply don’t exist. Palmerston Avenue was called Ontario Street until around 1910. Barton Avenue was first known as Lowther Avenue and then as Colbourne Street, and Follis Avenue was Seaton Street before becoming Johnston Avenue and finally ending up as Follis. In 1884, a huge swath of land around today’s Clinton Street had no permanent structures, and was labelled “Ontario Government.” The Christie sand pits appear in 1890, with the map indicating that the pits were “Concession II (From The Bay).” Ah, Canada: the only country in the world founded by a department store.

The building that is now Karma Co-op makes its first appearance in the 1910 fire insurance map, as do the houses at 735 and 737. That means the building was constructed sometime between 1903 and 1910. But the Karma building doesn’t show up as a separate address – the map jumps from 737 to 741, leaving our building unnumbered. Although there is room for three houses on a lot of that size, the owner of 735 and/or 737 chose instead to build two houses and a business. The alley off Barton appears from the beginning, laid out along with the lots, but because the address for the Karma building was hidden, we can surmise that the business was never meant to be a retail operation. This isn’t surprising, given that cab drivers in 2011 still can’t find the place.

After determining the approximate date of construction using the fire insurance maps, the next step is to check city directories and tax assessment rolls, which are all on microfiche.


The Magees Move In


A search of street addresses in the 1908 Toronto city directory lists a James Magee, baker, as the owner of 741 Palmerston Avenue. James Magee also owns the house at 743. The houses at 735 and 737 don’t exist. The 1909 city directory reveals an interesting fact: there are still no buildings on the 735 and 737 lot, but James Magee has transferred ownership of the house at 743 to his wife’s name, so it’s now listed under the ownership of Mrs. Sarah Magee. Women were able to own property in Upper Canada separately from their husbands during this era because in 1859 the government of Upper Canada passed An Act to Secure to Married Women Certain Rights of Property. However, married women didn’t have the right to control their own wage earnings free of their husband’s control until the Married Women’s Property Act of Ontario was passed in 1872.

The Magee name was first recorded in Scotland in 1296, as a sept of Clan Maguire. Irish chieftain M’Ghiein settled along the Scottish borderlands in the 9th century, and by the early 17th century, the M’Ghies, as they were then known, doubled back to Ireland to resettle the counties from which they had been dispersed by the Normans. By the early 18th century, these Scots-Irish began immigrating to North America, most arriving in Nova Scotia. More arrived in the mid-19th century, propelled by the Irish Potato Famine, this time landing in Saint John, New Brunswick, before making their various ways across the country. According to documents in the Archives of Ontario, James Magee was born in Ireland. Sarah Magee, née Cleland (a Scots name), was born in Quebec.

In the 1911 city directory, things get interesting. The house at 735 finally appears, and the owner is listed as Alfred E. Magee. The house at 737 also appears, owned by John O. Hughes. But the house at 741 has changed ownership: it’s now owned by William J. Magee, whose occupation is also listed as baker. Sarah Magee still owns 743. Are Alfred and William J. the sons of James and Sarah? Time to start checking the directories by name (instead of street address) to see if there are any clues as to their identity.

A check of the 1912 directory by name lists the following under “Magee”: “Alfred E., baker, h 735 Palmerston Avenue,” “Wm J., baker, L 741 Palmerston Av,” and “Sarah (wid James), h 743 Palmerston Av.” So there we have it: sometime between the release of the 1910 and 1911 directories, James has died. We know that the Karma building was built in 1909/1910, and that both Alfred and William were bakers, so perhaps James built – or started building – the business in order to pass it down to his sons.

The 1911 tax assessment indicates that William J. Magee is 38 years old and a Methodist. He has four children – ages five, 15, 16 and 21 – and the youngest children attend public school. William J. has an “F” next to his name that indicates he owns the property at 741 in “freehold,” meaning he owns his land and the home outright and, subject to certain laws, bylaws, and codes, he can do whatever he wants – such as construct a business in the back of his lot at 735/737. But wait a minute… doesn’t John O. Hughes own 737? According to the 1911 city directory, yes. But in the 1911 tax assessment, William J. is the owner. Sometime between the creation of the city directory and the visit from the tax assessor, William J. has purchased 737 from John O. Hughes. In the 1911 tax assessments, John O. Hughes – a 68-year-old merchant – is listed at 733 Palmerston.

The “H” next to the addresses in the 1912 city directory means “home,” and the “L” under William’s listing appears to mean “laneway.” This indicates that he was the owner of the business located in the laneway of 741 – the Karma building. This is the first time the Karma building is listed as a separate address, and attached to 741, as opposed to being a hidden part of 735/737 Palmerston. This was likely a quirk of the city official who made the entry, as the building never appears attached to 741 in the assessment rolls. For the purposes of property taxes, 739 Palmerston Avenue was always listed as “735/737 Rear” until it was severed from that lot sometime during the First World War, returned to 735/737 during the Great Depression, and severed again in the late 1970s.


A Changing City


Today, half of Toronto’s population was born outside of Canada, and 47 per cent of Toronto’s population report themselves as being part of a visible minority. However, in the early part of the last century, immigration policy favoured those arriving from northern Europe. Indeed, the 1913 assessment indicates that Barton Avenue was inhabited by a whole lotta white people: last names include Latimer, Pugh, Watson, Ross, Taylor, Coulter, Cameron, Bennett, Smith, and Sinclair. Occupations include driver, bookkeeper, brushmaker, clerk, and painter. Occupations for people living on Palmerston in 1913 include grocer, ironworker, labourer, machinist, shoemaker, contractor, butcher, brakeman, lithographer, and one entry that simply says “Masseys” (the Massey Manufacturing Plant was a major employer in Toronto).

There is one Chinese name on the 1913 assessment for Barton Avenue: Fred Chung, a tenant, whose occupation is listed as “laundry/gardener.” Over 700 Chinese men died building the Canadian Pacific Railway, but after the work was completed in 1885, Chinese workers were blamed for taking jobs away from white workers. A head tax was imposed that made it impossible for Chinese workers to bring over their wives and families, and “bachelor communities” were the norm. Chinese workers who stayed in Canada moved eastward to places such as Toronto. By settling together in urban areas, Chinese people created communities that were safe from the hostile and racist environment around them. Chinese workers were routinely paid less than half of what white workers were paid, so as a result, many Chinese people created opportunities for self-employment, starting businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, and laundries. By 1919, there were 2,100 Chinese people living in Toronto, including 35 families. “Launderer/gardener” Fred Chung was one of them.

Meanwhile, Sarah and James’s son William J. was becoming a very successful businessman. By 1914, William J. owns most of the block, including 735, 737, 735 Rear (the Karma building), 741, 755, and 759. Another Magee, John, age 36, owns 747 and 747 ½. John Magee can’t be William J.’s son, as they’re only five years apart in age, so he’s probably a brother. Alfred Magee is gone, perhaps to war.

The Magees needed labour to help run their bakery, and they likely attracted the best workers by offering or arranging affordable and convenient housing. In 1914, John Magee’s house at 747 is leased to Albert Magee, a 30-year-old baker (and perhaps another sibling), and 747 ½ is leased to James F. Cunningham, a 29-year-old baker. There is another baker listed at 753 Palmerston. Although it was wartime, these men did not enlist, as their occupations are not military related. It could be that bakers were discouraged from volunteering or even prohibited from enlisting in the First World War. In some cases, workers could not leave their employment without the consent of their employers. Baking bread for the masses might have been considered an essential service, depending on war needs and Toronto’s particular circumstances.

According to the 1914 assessment rolls, 739 Palmerston Avenue had a land value of $465 and a building valued at $1,200, with the total actual value of the real property assessed at $1,665.

The 1914 assessment also shows the first Jewish name on this block of Palmerston Avenue: Samuel Rosenberg, who is a grocer.


The Dynasty Continues


After James Magee dies, his widow, Sarah, takes in a tenant. The 1914 assessment shows a “Babington, Francis M, 33, Foreman” living at 743 Palmerston. But by 1917, Sarah’s tenant is gone. Did he volunteer to go to war? Was he conscripted to fight in the trenches? Did he marry and purchase his own home? Or did he simply move away? And here’s something else: although Sarah is still at 743, and William is still the owner of 741, the houses at 745, 747, 747 ½ are now listed as owned by the “Est of James Magee.” Why were the properties transferred to James’s estate so many years after he died? Did John (747 ½) leave to fight in the war? Was William’s business not doing well? Or was he just being a smart businessman? This assessment shows the former 735/737 Rear building listed for the first time as 739 Palmerston Avenue. This seems to indicate that William J. is now operating the bakery as a retail operation, as the address is no longer hidden. However, the designation will last only until the events of the Great Depression.

There is more information on the Magees in the 1917 assessment: John T., age 40, who owns 735, is listed as a “lumberman,” and Albert, age 38 and still a tenant in one of the houses owned by the “Est of James Magee,” has quit baking and is now working as a munitions worker. There’s also a new Magee: Archibald, age 40, a steamfitter, who owns 718 Palmerston Square. Archibald’s marriage certificate, which is at the Ontario Archives, shows that he is a son of James and Sarah; these men are likely all siblings.

The occupations of people living on Palmerston Square in 1920 include timekeeper, bricklayer, piano tuner, butcher, and moulder. Occupations for people living on Palmerston Avenue include toolmaker, grocer, porter, clerk, lumberman, shipper, carpenter, and labourer. Working women are occasionally listed, but only if they are property owners.

By 1920, we see the third generation of Magees on Palmerston Avenue. The 1920 tax assessment lists the occupant of 737 Palmerston as “Magee, Edward J., 25, LF, T, baker, owner William J. Magee c/o 739.” It’s clear that Edward is William J.’s son, living as a “T,” or tenant, in one of his dad’s houses. Edward would have been the 15-year-old son listed in the 1911 roll. Not only is he the third generation to live on Palmerston, but he’s also the third generation to have worked as a baker at 739 Palmerston Avenue. William J. is still living at 741.

The “LF” is an interesting notation, especially because it also appears beside Sarah Magee’s entry at 743 Palmerston. It stands for “legislative franchise” – women finally have the vote.

In the 1924/25 assessment, William J. is still listed at 739 Palmerston, and his occupation is still “baker.” His mother, Sarah, is no longer listed as living at 743. Instead, her former tenant, Francis Babington, has returned. But now, instead of “foreman,” his occupation is listed as “builder.” Despite the apparent improvement in his employment, the single Mr. Babington is still a tenant, as the house is owned by William J. and Archibald Magee. Sarah might be living with one of her sons, but it seems more likely that she too has died. The houses at 745, 747, and 747 ½ are all still owned by the estate of James Magee.

There’s a big change in 1927. John Magee lives at 735, but Frieda K. Keefer, a widow, lives at 737. William J.’s son Edward J., who is now 32 years old, lives in his father’s former home at 741. Although he still owns and operates the business at 739 Palmerston (along with a business partner, baker Herbert Harvey), William J. now lives in a larger home, at 48 Palmerston Gardens.

It’s interesting to note that Frieda Keefer does not have an “LF” designation next to her name. During the First World War, Germans were vilified in Canada. Many German Canadians were charged with treason and sedition, and although no charge was ever proven, many were socially ostracized and financially ruined. German Canadian university professors, municipal administrators, and managers of public utilities were fired from their jobs; athletes of German origin were barred from sports competitions. In 1916, mobs were allowed to attack them and destroy their properties in cities across the country. That same year, a group of prominent Torontonians launched the Anti-German League, which aimed to dismiss all Canadians of German origin from the public service and also aimed for a permanent ban on German products, immigrants, and influence in Canada. In 1917, the Wartime Elections Act disenfranchised all German Canadians naturalized after 1902; this legislation was in place until 1920. And in 1919, the government of Canada extended the waiting period for the naturalization of immigrants from “enemy countries” from five to 10 years. The enemy-alien category – which was originally applied only to non-naturalized immigrants – was also extended to second-generation (or later) German Canadians. Although Canada reopened its borders to immigrants from Germany in 1923, negative stereotypes based on wartime propaganda was a strong force throughout the 1920s. Germans were denied employment, customers, and support in local communities, and over 65,000 German nationals and immigrants naturalized after 1922 were ordered to report regularly to the police. The fact that Frieda did not have legislative franchise tells us a lot about her life. By 1928, after only one year, she had moved away from Palmerston Avenue.


The Great Depression


William J. Magee was certainly moving up in the world – both literally and figuratively. Although he’d only been at 48 Palmerston Gardens for a few years after leaving 741 Palmerston, by 1930, he’s living at 44 Glenholme Avenue (west of Oakwood, north of Davenport), in a large, detached brick home that is most certainly not attached to a laneway business of any kind. Sometime before, William J. had created a business called Royal Bakeries Ltd., so he was legally responsible only to a limited amount for any business debts. He was in some ways very lucky and in other ways very shrewd.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Canada was one of the world’s hardest-hit economies. The country’s Gross National Income relied on exports, but worldwide prices had collapsed. As a result, Gross National Expenditure declined by nearly 50 per cent between 1929 and 1933. By 1933, one-third of the Canadian labour force was unemployed. But the Depression created unequal burdens for people in different social and/or economic classes. Although wages dropped, prices declined even faster – so the standard of living for property owners and those with jobs actually increased. It was farmers, young people, small businesses, and the unemployed who suffered the most during the Depression.

William J. Magee is 57 years old and the owner of several properties. Worldwide wheat and grain prices have collapsed, so his raw material costs are lower than ever. The 1930 assessment indicates that 739 Palmerston is a vacant building owned by William J.’s company, Royal Bakeries, which means that William J. has laid off his staff and closed his business – so although he might have suffered as a small businessman, he also isn’t paying out wages. He has purchased a large new home at 44 Glenholme Avenue. It’s clear that his standard of living has improved.

By 1931, however, the Karma building loses its separate address at 739, and is listed once again as “735/737 Rear.” Now it’s owned by Regal Bakeries Ltd., and the assessment indicates that Alexander Gray of 612 Dupont Street is president of the company. Stanley Curtis and Colin Renn, both bakers, are listed as tenants. Regal also owns 741, although William J. and Johanna Magee are listed as owners of 737 and 745. Fifty-year-old Alfred Magee is back for the first time since the 1914 rolls, listed as owner of 743. Interestingly, this is the first time a woman is listed as co-owner of any of William J.’s properties. Is Johanna his wife or his daughter?

But wait a minute. What is “Regal Bakeries”? And why is the name so close to “Royal Bakeries”? My spidey sense is tingling. So I go back one year, to check the 1930 assessment rolls. In 1930, the properties and/or businesses at 739, 741, 743, and 745 Palmerston were originally listed as owned by “Charles Bread Co. Ltd., Charles A. Lawrence (Pres.).” The assessor then struck out all the entries and re-entered them as “O: Royal Bakeries Ltd., 44 Glenholme Ave, Alexander Gray, Mgr.” The 739 property lists Charles Bread Co. Ltd. at 612 Dupont Street, but the 741 property lists the same company at 180 Ossington Avenue. Likewise, although we know that Royal Bakeries was c/o William J. at 44 Glenholme Avenue, the 1930 assessment lists 743 and 745 as owned by Royal Bakeries at 612 Dupont. Either the assessor needed a nap, or we’re playing musical chairs with business names and addresses.

In the end, despite whatever intrigue or desperate measures may have been going on, it didn’t work. By 1933, 735/737 Rear is owned by the Canada Permanent Trust Company, with William Iliffe, a baker, listed as tenant. William J. Magee has lost his business.


The Stables


Many people believe that the Karma building was once used as a stables. The assessments prove that story untrue. But assessments throughout the 1930s do show that 743/745 Rear was used as a stables. (Today, 743 Rear is the farthest side of the Karma parking lot, where the garbage and recycling bins live.) Because the tax assessments indicate that William J. Magee (as Royal Bakeries) owned the stables in 1930, we can assume that he delivered some or all of his products by horse and buggy. In fact, City Hall documents reveal that privately owned horses pulled delivery wagons in Toronto until the Second World War, probably due to gas rationing. Look closely at the brickwork on the upper north wall, where the old receiving dock used to be, and it’s clear that there used to be a huge door there. The buggies would have been backed up to that door to enable the bakers to load the bread for delivery. The big door was later converted to a smaller, roller-type loading dock (which explains the mismatched brickwork), until finally being dismantled and filled in during Karma’s recent renovations.

The Canada Permanent Trust Company owns 735/737 Rear and 741 throughout the 1930s. Throughout the early 1930s, Johanna and William J. still own 737, and still live at 44 Glenholme Avenue. Albert E. Magee, who is now in his early 50s and is still a baker, now lives at 743, but the property is owned by Albert Gould c/o 751 Palmerston. William J. and Archibald Magee own 743 and 745, renting 743 to “McDonald, John A., 55, LF, T, carpenter,” and 745 to “Eisen, Henry, 26, no LF, A, T, CNR clerk.” The “A” in Henry’s listing indicates that he is an “alien,” which explains why he has no legislative franchise. By 1933, William Iliffe, the baker, has bought 741 Palmerston from the Canada Permanent Trust Company.

The 1938 roll lists the owners of 737 as “Johannah [sic] Magee, W, est. of William J. Magee, 44 Glenholme Drive [sic].” So now we know: Johanna is William J.’s wife. And sometime between 1934 and 1938 – the years I randomly choose to examine – William J. has died. The house at 737 is now rented to Sidney Collins, a 44-year-old stockkeeper.

By 1938, as the Depression drags on, the rolls show that William Iliffe is unable or unwilling to make a go of the bakery. Frank Smith now operates Ma’s Bakery as the tenant at 735/737 Rear, which has been repossessed by the Canada Permanent Trust Company. The Canada Permanent Trust Company leases the house at 741 to Edgar R. Anthony, a 28-year-old machinist, James Roberts, a 23-year-old truck driver, and Gordon Pearson, a 31-year-old landscape gardener. By this time, a rear addition to 741 has been constructed, so the house is listed as “Pt 741” (part 741) for the three gentlemen tenants, and “Pt 741” for Frank Smith’s “bakery office.” By 1939, Frank Smith and Ma’s Bakery is listed as the tenant at 743/745 Rear, so Frank is also using the stables, perhaps to deliver his products. Frank Smith doesn’t live on Palmerston Avenue, though, as the rolls indicate “Mail to: 410 Dundas St. E.”


The Second World War


By 1940, Canada has been fighting the Second World War for one year. The house at 735 Palmerston is now owned by Elizabeth H. Magee, who is a widow – so John T. Magee has died, perhaps in the war. The house at 737 is still owned by Johanna Magee at 44 Glenholme Avenue, and still rented to Sidney Collins, who is now 46 and still working as a stockkeeper. The extended Magee family is still a presence on the street, as 755 is owned by “Magee, Malcolm, extr of est of William Magee, 38 Dixon Ave.” (Note that William is not William J.)

Frank Smith is still listed at 735/737 Rear, with his mail still going to 410 Dundas Street East, and the owner is still listed as the Canada Permanent Trust Company, which also owns 741 Palmerston. The bank rents “Pt 741” to Harry Cooper, a 48-year-old pedlar, and “Pt 741” to Frank, who is still using the addition as a bakery office. That’s a bit strange, though, as Frank isn’t using the Karma building as the bakery anymore: under “Occupation,” tenant Frank Smith’s business is listed as “private garage.” However, Frank Smith and Ma’s Bakery is listed as the tenant at 743/745 Rear. Maybe that’s where the stables story comes from: perhaps Frank started using the former stables at 743/745 Rear as his new bakery, and converted the Karma building to a garage

The 1940 assessment shows that the men living on Palmerston Avenue are all in their late 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. There is one 27-year-old. The rest of the men are away at war.

By 1943, Paul Volk owns Pt 741 (the bakery office) and 743 Rear. Questions abound: Did Frank Smith go to war? Why did the bakery operation originally at 735/737 Rear (or 739) keep getting smaller, this time reduced from 743/745 Rear to merely 743 Rear? The war had mostly positive effects on the Canadian economy, but perhaps Paul couldn’t find anyone to work in his bakery – or anyone to shop there. Although German Canadians weren’t attacked by mobs as in the First World War, they were once again singled out for hostile treatment during the Second World War. However, in the 1945 assessment, “Paul Volk, Mnfr Baker” and his wife, Bernice Volk, are listed as the tenants at 743 Rear, Pt 741 and 735/737 Rear – so the bakery has once again taken over the Karma building space. And it seems to have gone strictly wholesale or commercial, as the new “manufacturer baker” occupation title seems to indicate.

Johanna Magee still owns 737 Palmerston in 1945 (still as the executor of her husband’s estate), and she still lives at 44 Glenholme. However, the former tenant, Sidney Collins, has left his job as a stockkeeper to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. His occupation is now listed as “RCAF.” He’s also married, as his wife, Bessie, is now listed. By 1946, however, Bessie and Sidney are no longer at 737. Instead, Edith McGuire, a widow whose religion is listed as “Epis” (Episcopalian), is living there. Did Sidney die in the war? Or did he and Bessie move away after his time in the RCAF?

By 1946, Paul Volk has bought 741 Palmerston from the Canada Permanent Trust Company, but he doesn’t live there. He rents it to Harry E. and Esther Cooper, and still uses “Pt 741” (the back addition) as the bakery office. Paul and Bernice Volk are also listed as the owners of 735/737 Rear. For the first time, the assessment lists details about Paul Volk: he was born in 1906, so he is 40 years old. He and Bernice live at 223 Cosburn Avenue, which means a long daily commute by streetcar. For “Religion,” the assessor has listed “NR,” which likely means “no religion.” In 1946, having no religion was quite a statement to make in public.

The only Magee still living on Palmerston in 1946 is the widow Elizabeth, who is still at 735.

In 1946, we start seeing the first large influx of Eastern European names to Palmerston Avenue, such as “Rabinowitch, Gertrude” and “Radzinsky, Harry.” We also see “J” listed under the “Religion” column with more frequency: Anna Teska lives at 757 and Morris Schwartz, a pedlar, lives at 759.

One might expect the assessment rolls to have reflected an increase in Jewish names during the 1930s, when nearly 1 million Jewish people fled from Nazi-controlled Europe, but Canada took in fewer Jews than any Western country, accepting only 4,000 refugees. Religious intolerance was common in Canadian society, and many political leaders were anti-Semitic. Not only did Canada put restrictions on immigration during the Depression, it even deported some Jewish people who were found to have connections to unions and the Communist Party. The government could approve certain kinds of immigrants, but permission for Jews to enter was almost never given. Many industries would not hire Jewish people, and Jews were routinely excluded from jobs at universities, hospitals, and law firms and banned from clubs, resorts, and beaches. After the Second World War, however, Canada opened its doors to immigration because it needed workers. As a result, over 40,000 Holocaust survivors came to Canada in the late 1940s. Jewish people often worked as retailers and wholesalers, many beginning as pedlars – like Morris Schwartz at 759 Palmerston – before working their way up to established businesses.


The Post-War Period


By 1952, Palmerston Avenue is full of Eastern European names: Bokor, Malovec, Rosenberg, Charkow, and Wozniak. Isobel Magee is now listed as the owner of 735 Palmerston, with Harold J. Magee, “president” (of what, we don’t know), listed as tenant. From this change, we can assume that Harold is the son of Elizabeth and John T. Magee, that the widow Elizabeth has died, and that Isobel is Harold’s wife. This is another third-generation Magee line on Palmerston Avenue: Harold is a cousin of Edward J., because John T. was a brother of William J. Both William J. and John T. were sons of Sarah and James.

William J.’s widow, Johanna Magee, is still alive in 1952, listed in the assessment rolls as the owner of 737 Palmerston, which is still rented to the widow Edith McGuire. However, Johanna doesn’t live at 44 Glenholme anymore – she moved to 56 Wilgar Road (near Bloor and Royal York) in the 1950 rolls, and by 1952 has retired to Keswick, Ontario. Although William J. Magee lost his business in the Depression, he and Johanna improved their standard of living through property ownership. The sale of the Glenholme house provided for an even larger home at Bloor and Royal York, and for a secure retirement.

According to William J.’s death certificate, Johanna Magee’s maiden name was Gardiner. A search for “Johanna Gardiner” in the 1901 Canadian census reveals that Johanna was born circa 1869 in Sydenham, Grey County, Ontario, and that she married William J. Magee on October 26, 1892, in Grey County. They were married for 42 years. By 1952, she is 83 years old and has outlived her husband by almost 20 years.

After a decade, the Volks have moved on. The bakery at 735/737 Rear is now owned by five men: John Derzko, Anton Dziadyk, Eugene Borys, Roman Dziadyk, and Leon Neofita. All are listed as “A,” or “alien,” and all are listed as “Mnfr Baker.” The same five men also own 741 Palmerston, which is rented to Stefan Horodeckyj, a driver. The “Pt 741” addition that had been used as the bakery office is now listed as “Rr 741,” and is a vacant lot. Today, that vacant lot is the right-of-way to the back door of the first-floor flat at 741 and the parking space for 741 Palmerston (so don’t park there!).

By 1955, the bakery at 735/737 Rear is owned by Dempsters Bread Limited, which also owns 743 Rear. The assessment lists the Dempsters head office at 1166 Dundas Street West (at Ossington), and also lists a tenant, Herman Yalerovites, a baker, at 735/737 Rear, so Dempsters was apparently using contracted bakers to prepare some or all of its goods. The value of the land at 735/737 Rear is assessed at $955, with the value of the buildings assessed at $2,500. The tenant at 741 is Eugene Matwijeck, a bricklayer.

Dempsters doesn’t own the Karma building for long. By 1958, 735/737 Rear is owned by Heidmann’s Home Made Bread Limited, which is also listed as the tenant. Heidmann’s also owns 741, which it rents to Anthony Blacha, a baker, and his wife, Christine Blacha.

By 1960, the total value of the land and buildings at 735/737 Rear more than doubles, to $7,355 from 1955’s $3,455. This is clearly due to a renovation and addition to the building. Look closely at the brickwork, and you’ll see that today’s cash area is a more recent addition to the original building. The west-side addition has a different ceiling height and uses different construction materials; look up at the roof as you enter the front door to see the difference. The renovation likely included converting the large buggy-loading doors into the roller-type loading dock.

In 1960, the house at 735 is owned by Helena and Tadeusz Piekutowski, both “aliens,” who live there. The house at 737 is owned by Gilbert Rutherford, a factory worker, who lives there with his wife, Doris Rutherford, who is listed as “HW.” In a perfect world, “HW” might stand for “hot woman,” or even “homewrecker,” but alas, in 1958, it stands for “housewife.” By 1967, Gilbert has taken on a trade, and become a millwright

As the 1960s progress, we start seeing Italian names on Palmerston Avenue: Bartolo Casperi, a truck driver; Ippolito Ciardullo, a labourer; Santo Berlingeri, a labourer; Umberto Palermo, a steelworker; and Alberto Angelis, a mechanic. There are also some Russian names: Nikolai Siniakov, a moulder, and his wife, Anna Siniakov, own 745 Palmerston, which is rented to Nikolai Federov, a technician. The Siniakovs and Mr. Federov are all listed as “aliens.”

By 1967, the street has a broader mix of ethnicities and classes: there are lots of Italians (surnames Conforti, Pietro, and Marchese), the first Hindu (Raj K. Gupta, a probation officer), a French Canadian (René Ouellette), and a Greek (Demetri Dimitriopoulis, a waiter). Two couples on Yarmouth Road – Augustale and Michele Arlotto and Rona and Carmela Arlotto – are listed in the 1967 assessment roll as “Wreckers & Assemblers.” The car culture has arrived.

Heidmann’s – which is spelled “Heidemann’s” after 1962 – owns 735/737 Rear throughout the 1960s and well into the 1970s. We’d have to do a corporate search at City Hall to find out who owned Heidemann’s, but it could have been the Blachas, as they lived at 741 for over a decade. By 1970, however, 741 is rented to Hans Donnecker, a baker, and Ericka Donnecker, an officer clerk, as well as another couple – but Heidemann’s is also listed as a tenant, likely for office space. Hans and Ericka also own 743 Rear, which is now listed as a garage.


Karma Opens Its Doors


In 1972, when Karma Co-operative is founded, the downtown cluster of buildings that make up the Toronto-Dominion Centre is in the midst of being built. Toronto has just elected reformist mayor David Crombie and reformist councillor John Sewell, who would later become mayor. The Spadina Expressway had been defeated the year before, and change is in the air.

By 1974, Heidemann’s still owns 735/737 Rear, and has re-purchased 743 Rear from the Donneckers – but 743 Rear is now listed in the assessment as “Employee Parking.” By this time, Palmerston Avenue is home to more Hindus (Mohammad Popat), a Muslim (Salim Kanji), people from the Caribbean (Stephen Persaud, whose surname is the Trinidadian or Guyanese form of the Indian surname Prasad), and someone whose parents combined an Arabic name with a Hindu name (Atiff Subhan), which may indicate mixed familial roots.

In 1981, the assessment lists Karma Co-operative at 739 Palmerston Avenue. The co-op was located on Dupont Street before moving to the Palmerston building in 1978-79. We’ve now been here longer than any other tenant or owner.

The building at 739 Palmerston Avenue is now over 100 years old. Recent renovations – such as the installation of skylights and of windows on the east wall – have improved the space. But we remember its many quirks: for example, although we had water in the building, we didn’t have an independent supply until 2000, when general manager Art Momongon finally got us connected to the city main. Prior to that time, Karma got its water through a hook-up at 741 Palmerston (from back in the days when “Pt 741” was the bakery office). The old water pipe ran overhead, from the back of 741 to the addition at 735/737 Rear, across the laneway from Palmerston.

When Karma Co-op first purchased the building, Heidemann’s had been using electric ovens for years, but the original brick baking ovens were still on site, located in the southeast corner. After they were demolished, the bricks were taken out of the building one by one, by hand and in wheelbarrows. It was freezing cold in the building, and hot showers were the prescription of choice when members headed home at the end of their member-labour workday. Although that change was a major one for a building that had always been used as a bakery, two main themes have stayed the same: 739 Palmerston has always been used to feed people, and it has always been a local business. Those themes have deepened in the 21st century, as Karma’s co-operative business model has offered members political and economic control over the food they purchase, as well as a healthy connection to the local businesses who grow that food. That’s the bricks and mortar of a healthy community and a healthy world.




William J. Magee

Emotional repression is the leading cause of disease in dominant Western society. What does this mean for human health, the health of local communities, and the health of the planet?

William J. Magee, the longtime proprietor of the bakery at 739 (or 735/737 Rear) Palmerston Avenue, died on April 20, 1934, of pneumonia contracted after surgery on April 12, 1934, for an appendiceal abscess/perforation and acute dilatation of the stomach. He was 64 years old. Appendicitis is usually caused by inflammation and the presence of enlarged lymph tissue on the appendix wall (which is part of the large intestine). Sometimes a pus-filled abscess forms outside the inflamed appendix; this indicates that the body is attempting to contain infection. “Acute dilatation” indicates an enlarged stomach, also caused by inflammation. This inflammation could have been linked to an autoimmune disorder or an infection such as the H. pylori bacteria associated with stomach ulcers, but was most likely caused by a physiological response to stressors in William J. Magee’s environment. Chronic inflammation suppresses the immune system.

The assessment rolls tell us that William J. Magee lost his business in 1933, during the Great Depression. How did he deal with that event? Did he ask for or get the emotional and spiritual support he needed? Was he encouraged to view his illness as a physical manifestation of this and other traumatic events in his life?

We know from the death certificate that doctors at St. Michael’s Hospital addressed William J. Magee’s condition through surgery. Western medicine is very good at trauma medicine – if his abscess had already burst and spread the infection throughout his abdominal cavity, St. Mike’s was his only chance for survival (although invented in 1928, penicillin and other antibiotics weren’t widely used until the 1940s). If, however, the surgeons perforated the abscess during surgery, or if he had sought care prior to that time for his condition, he was obviously failed by the Western medical model.

Western society has a mechanistic, Newtonian view of the universe that does not understand interrelatedness and quantum systems. As a result, Western medicine does not understand the connections among mind, body, spirit, and emotion and does not understand the connection between trauma/stress and chronic dis/ease. Western medicine concentrates on suppressing symptoms and removing “broken” parts; holistic and homeopathic medicine concentrates on identifying and removing the causes of illness and accessing the body’s innate power for self-healing.

Identifying the causes of illness means acknowledging the emotional and spiritual trauma that keeps us from living fully in the present. When we experience trauma, we survive by protecting ourselves; we compartmentalize the trauma and shut off the pain by cutting ourselves off from our emotions, spirits, and bodies. Over time, this learned response fragments our identities, limits our ability to create and sustain relationships, and leads to imbalances that manifest as illness or disease. Removing the causes of illness requires us to move from acknowledging our emotional and spiritual trauma to understanding not only how that trauma has shaped us, but what sorts of responses we employ to manage the ongoing effects of that trauma – and how to change those responses. This self-awareness is what it means to live in the moment, conscious of our emotional triggers, fears, and boundaries.

William J. Magee is buried in Prospect Cemetery in Toronto. Remembering his story might help us consider our own stories. What are the forces that have shaped us? How do we as people and as a society understand our own and others’ pain? Promoting well-being for each individual, each community, and the world means recognizing the connections among people, their environments, and their life experiences. Recognizing these stories does two things: it gives us a sense of autonomy from past trauma by allowing us to take personal responsibility for our health, and it gives us hope for the future by offering us the chance to develop empathy and connectedness and a better world. In that sense, healing means much more than surgery and drugs. Healing is a process of transformation.


Toronto Archives Research Hall; Ontario Archives Reading Room.

“The Lost Village of Seaton,” by Paul J. McGrath, Toronto Tree (December 2005), Ontario Genealogical Society – Toronto Branch.

Toronto History FAQs; City of Toronto Archives.

Toronto Diversity FAQs; City of Toronto Archives.

Property Law; Canadian Encyclopedia.

McGee Surname DNA Project.

The McGregor and Mills Families.

Background: Chinese Immigration; CBC News.

Chinese in Canada; Canadian Encyclopedia.

Chinese History in Toronto; Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter.

The Great Depression in Canada; Canadian Encyclopedia.

Germans in Canada; Canadian Encyclopedia.

Suzanne Methot is a social and cultural historian with expertise in holistic health and psychoneuroimmunology. A co-op member since 1999, she is a former chairperson of the Chronicle Committee and has also written numerous supplier and product profiles for The Chronicle.